Updated: Jun 3
As your baby grows, countless little milestones are worth celebrating as they constantly develop new skills and abilities. Though you are probably looking forward to your baby crawling, they must accomplish another milestone first: rolling over. One day very soon, you'll set your baby down on their playmat and look away for a second only to find that they have rolled off of it.
Rolling over is one of the first physical developmental milestones (gross motor) that your baby will reach. Learning to roll is essential for your baby's muscle development and a precursor to sitting up and crawling. The first moment your baby makes without your help is quite a moment to remember. Suddenly, they aren't so helpless anymore; they can move!
Learning to roll can also help the later fine motor skills development, such as writing. This is because it engages the part of the brain that encourages the right and left sides of the body to coordinate with each other.
Interestingly babies once learned this behavior on their own. Before safe sleep recommendations to combat SIDS, babies would often wake on their bellies and practice pushing up and rolling in their crib. Since the recommendations that babies be placed to sleep on their back in 1993, it was found that they were rolling over and crawling later. But it's a minor inconvenience compared to the fact that safe sleep recommendations cut SIDS death rates by 50 percent over the 10 years they became commonly adopted. To combat the delay, pediatricians began recommending tummy time starting from infancy.
NOTE: Are you worried your baby might roll over in their sleep and become trapped in a position where their breathing is compromised? Once infants can roll onto their stomachs, they have enough head control to lift their heads and breath. Rolling from the tummy to the back is easier, too, so if a baby can roll onto their stomach, they can usually roll back.
This article explains when to expect your baby to roll over, encourage them to roll and keep them safe as they become more mobile.
In the article:
Why rolling is important
Rolling is a complicated movement requiring the body's two sides to do opposite movements. This is important for the brain-body connection (i.e., how the body learns to respond when the brain says "reach"), to build neuronal maps (i.e., how a baby will learn to move in 3D space), to strengthen bilateral coordination skills (i.e., to use both sides of the body), and is preparing baby to develop more complex movements.
Rolling is the first transitional movement skill and allows a baby to:
Begin to explore their world, and this is the first time babies can determine where they will go...they are off!
Learn to use both sides of their body together.
Learn how to use both arms and legs together (a prelude to creeping and crawling).
Develop strength in their head, back, and hips in preparation for sitting and crawling.
Develop motor planning and coordination, i.e., plan how to move for a purpose.
Learn about risk-taking (those first few rolls completely change how a baby sees the world).
Be aware of their environment and thus assist their cognitive development as they become aware of their environment and begin to control it.
Develop their sensory systems (use of their vestibular and optical systems).
Most babies learn to roll over by 6-7 months of age. Regardless of whether babies take the fast or slow road to rolling, their bodies begin preparing to roll wayyyyyy before they ever flip themselves over that very first time.
How to Make Your Space Safe
Once your baby knows how to do a full roll (from back to front and back again, or vice versa), rolling around can be amusing. Some babies use rolling as a form of transportation, rolling themselves from here to there.
It's exciting to see your baby become mobile. The first time they flip over is the moment you (and your camera phone!) won't want to miss. Of course, while rolling over is fun for him, it could be nerve-racking for you.
Babies usually roll over without any notice. Always be aware to never leave your baby unattended on a high surface, even before they roll. All these exciting new moves that come with this big milestone could result in a fall or other hazards. Be sure to keep them safe on the changing table and in other places where. It might take a fraction of a second for them to roll over and fall. Therefore, make them lie on the floor when they show signs of rolling over.
As your baby makes their way around, you'd be surprised by the things a rolling baby can get their hands on: a crumb under the couch, the cat's bowl, or a plugged-in laptop charger. If it's within the rolling distance, they'll try to make their way to it—so it's best to review your childproofing checklist again. Once the baby is intentionally rolling, it's essential to keep their space clear of anything that could get in the baby's way and potentially obstruct their breathing or pose a choking hazard.
The best way to do this is to lie on the floor and look around. This is what your child sees - including that old button cell battery under the couch! Seeing the world as your child sees it can make childproofing things easier for you.
Regardless of the age your baby starts to roll over, whenever they start, it's a signal to stop swaddling them during sleep. If your baby tries to roll over with their arms swaddled in, they may get stuck mid-roll or end up in a position restricting their breathing and then be unable to get out of it. Consider a sleep sack with open arms instead of a swaddle once your child rolls around. This way, they'll feel secure and bundled while still being able to move their arms freely while they sleep. If your little one is in a bassinet, you should transfer them to a crib for safety.
Remove hazards in their bed.
Those pictures of baby nurseries chock-full of blankets, accent pillows, and stuffed animals are adorable in photographs, but not when it comes to a proper bedtime! As your little one starts to roll around in their crib, ensure there are no blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals they could get wrapped up in that can cause SIDs. It's best to let your child find their natural sleeping position, and using products that keep them in a specific sleep position can be dangerous.
Back to sleep, tummy to play.
You should continue to put your little one on their back to sleep as it is the safest sleep position to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. According to the AAP, babies should sleep on their backs until they are 1 year old.
What should you do if the baby rolls over in their sleep?
Are you worried they might roll over in their sleep and become trapped in a position where their breathing is compromised?
Some parents worry their baby might roll onto their tummy while asleep in the crib. However, you do not have to check up on your little one every hour or stalk the baby monitor.
Reduce the risk of harm
Once infants begin rolling, you can reduce the risk of harm to the baby by taking specific steps:
stopping swaddling the baby, as swaddling makes moving more difficult
removing any bedding or decorations from the crib, including crib bumpers
avoiding using weighted blankets or other sleep aids
moving the baby to a crib, if they are still in a bassinet or another small sleep area
It is important NOT to stop infants from rolling, strap them into a swing, or swaddle them more tightly. Limiting movement is more dangerous than allowing it.
A flipped-over baby in the middle of the night is nothing to be inherently afraid of. It is perfectly normal for your baby to squirm while they're cozy and sleeping as they try to adjust to a more comfortable position.
Babies begin to roll from as early as 3-4 months. Importantly, SIDS risk decreases significantly at 4 months old. Once infants can roll onto their stomachs, they have enough head control to lift their heads and breathe. Rolling from the tummy to the back is usually easier, so if your baby can roll onto their stomach, they can roll back (although you should continue to put your baby to sleep on their back, even if they don't stay in that position all night.).
There is no need to roll babies back once they can roll over. They sleep best and safest when they can find a comfortable sleeping position themselves. However, ensuring that their crib is safety tested and does not have coverings that can trap the infant's head is crucial.
If you're really worried about your little one rolling over to sleep on their belly, you might try laying them down in their crib on their back with one of their arms extended. That way, if they roll, it's more likely to be onto the side with their arm out in front of their chest — and then they'll be slightly less likely to flip fully onto their tummy because it tucks that arm underneath them.
Some products like the Tranquilo Safe Sleep Swaddle Blanket (which is not actually a swaddle!) and the Swanling Slumber Sleeper are designed to prevent your baby from rolling and keep them fast asleep on their back.
Please check out the SIDS prevention recommendations and research the safety of any product before using it.
What to do if my baby can't fall back asleep after rolling over?
While some babies are perfectly fine to sleep on their stomachs once they roll over, others are wide awake — and unhappy!
While some babies will wake up midsleep from rolling over in their crib, other babies will keep themselves up by rolling around and not wanting to fall back asleep. It's natural for the novelty of their new skill to keep them awake for a while, but it will wear off in time.
The novelty of rolling over in the crib usually goes away quickly, and the chances are your baby will stop disrupting their sleep with this new skill in just a few days. Sleep problems due to this new milestone are typically short-lived and will quickly resolve.
Can I put my baby on their tummy for sleep after they roll?
No, babies should always be on their backs for sleep until age 1. That said, if they roll to their tummy on their own after placing them on their back, it is OK to leave them there. If they roll on their own, they should be strong enough to roll back if needed.
If your little one is rolling, it's time to have their arms out of the swaddle if they are still being swaddled. They need their arms to push them up to roll over, and it is no longer safe for their arms to be constricted. This is an excellent time to move to a sleep sack.
How to Teach Your Baby to Roll Over
Every child is different and develops at their own pace. But, if you want to encourage your baby's development toward this milestone, here are some ways to help your little one roll over.
Lots of tummy time...
Tummy time is extremely important to strengthen your baby's back, arm, and neck muscles - all the upper body muscles that will eventually help them make that first roll! So, practice this early and often during their wake windows.
You should start tummy time as soon as you get home from a hospital, laying your infant face-down across your lap or chest for a few minutes while they are awake for a few minutes.
A lot of babies don't enjoy tummy time at first. Here is what to do: My baby hates tummy time (The Ultimate Guide).
Other than that, the best way to encourage the baby to roll over is to physically guide them, teaching them what it feels like to move. Assisting your baby to roll from one position to another gives a baby the experience of moving, the confidence that it is okay as you are showing them to do it, and helps develop the muscles, the sensory systems, and coordination to perform the movement independently.
Remember that the sensation of the baby rolling over is entirely new and can be a little shocking or scary. They might have this 'what just happened?' look on their faces. Don't be surprised if the baby cries at first. But after they do it a few times—and hear you clapping and cheering—baby will be more eager to try it out.
Tips and Activities to Get Your Baby to Roll Over:
Once your baby shows signs that they are ready to roll over, you can give them a helping hand by doing the following:
1. Roll Them While Picking Them Up And Putting Them Down.
Before your little one can roll on by themselves, you can help them learn the motion and the feeling of rolling by rolling them yourself. When you pick your little one up, rather than just picking them straight up, help them roll their weight to their side first. You can also roll them over to the side when your little one sits on their bottom. Your baby will automatically try to keep their head from falling out of line with the body, a cool reflex they are born with. This helps them strengthen the muscles on the sides of their neck, giving them the added bonus of practicing pushing against the floor.
2. Minimize time spent in baby equipment.
This includes baby swings, play saucers/jumpers, bouncer chairs, and, yes, even car seats (though car seats should ALWAYS be used while the baby is in a vehicle). Babies only develop new motor skills through experience, practice, and trial & error, so for every minute your baby is in baby equipment, that's a minute of lost experience. Don't get us wrong; baby equipment is super helpful for busy caregivers and fussy babies. It makes for great photo ops for that adorable baby scrapbook you'll never get around to completing. We just don't want babies spending most of their waking (and sleeping) hours confined to spaces and equipment, preventing them from practicing their new and exciting motor skills.
3. Strategic toy placement
Place baby on their belly with their favorite toy on one side, above eye level but out of reach (so they have to move to get to it). Encourage the baby to move toward the toy by shaking it or putting your face near it. You can help the baby by placing the palm of your hand on their bottom and gently rocking their hips toward one side. This will help the baby shift their weight and begin a roll to the side you turned them toward.
Use a blanket to assist your baby with the roll. Place them on a bed or padded/carpeted floor in the middle of a blanket. Sit on one side of the blanket and roll the blanket up in your hands so there are only 2-3 inches between your baby and your hands. Put a toy on the blanket; as the baby reaches for the toy, lift the blanket into the air (no more than 1 inch) to assist the baby in rolling away from you and toward the toy.
5. Let gravity help
Initiating rolling (whether on their back or belly) requires movement against gravity which can be difficult for your little one to do if their muscles are not yet strong enough. One strategy that can be helpful is to start them lying on their side, so they can be successful in completing the last half of the movement. In this position, gravity will help them rather than work against them. As your child improves, you can increase the amount of motion they are doing within the transition.
6. Encourage Side Play.
You can use toys, mirrors, books, or the most exciting toy — your face! — to engage him in the side-lying position. He may need help staying on his side when he's younger, which can easily be done with your hand, foot, or a rolled-up receiving blanket wedged behind his back. As he becomes more comfortable on his side, place desired toys or objects just out of his reach. He will begin to cross his top leg over to the floor aaaaand…wa-la!…this is how he will initiate the roll to his tummy!
7. Don't Forget Back Play!
While helping them move through "rounded" positions. Playtime on the back is just as important as tummy time, especially when the baby has the opportunity to move into and out of a rounded or "tucked" position. We want babies to develop a good balance of extension (that "arching" position, learned in tummy time) and flexion (that "tucked" position, learned in playtime on the back) as they grow and learn new motor skills; we don't want one position overpowering the other. This rounded position is easy to achieve because most young babies prefer to be on their back, plus it allows caregivers to easily interact with and entertain them. Playtime on the back can take place on any flat surface — even on your lap — as you sing, read, talk, or help baby nibble on their toes while providing flexion in baby's knees, hips, and/or trunk.
8. Change Positions A Lot.
Allow baby to spend roughly equal amounts of time on all four sides of the body: tummy, back, left side, and right side. This gives the baby's body exposure to all positions involved in rolling as they strengthen their neck, trunk, and arms.
Moving your little one into different positions can also prevent them from frustration.
Have your baby play in a side-lying position
Add a rolled-up blanket under the back if the baby is having a hard time staying on their side
Be sure to switch sides.
It's also good for preventing the formation of flat spots on the back of their head, which, if you ask us, is incentive enough to mix things up throughout the day. Try to vary the baby's position about every 15-20 minutes.
9. Cross the Midline.
To roll from back to belly, babies need to cross the midline. This means they need to be able to cross their arms and legs over the middle of their body. The ability to roll depends on a baby's ability to come to (and cross) that midline. The midline play can be done lying on the back or the side. Our center moves with us wherever we go.
Babies usually develop the ability to play with their hands in the midline between 1-3.5 months (on their back) and are able to look with their head in the midline in this position between 4-5 months.
10. Encourage the baby to separate upper and lower body movements.
Newborn babies are wired to keep their bodies in one line, so they'll do a "log roll" if you try to roll them over. The "segmental roll" typically develops between 4-5 months, as they are able to twist and separate the movements of the upper and lower body while initiating the roll with their hips. Once the baby is comfortable playing at the midline in the rounded position mentioned earlier, you can go ahead and move their back and forth through these twisting positions to the rhythm of your favorite children's song. Start with both legs moving together, then progress to helping your baby grab one foot with the opposite hand. Pause for a second after each twist to give the baby's body a chance to register the movement, then proceed and let the good times roll!
11. Carry Them Around In Different Positions.
Who knew rolling could develop from being carried? Carry baby in a "tucked," face down, or sideways position. Doing this will improve your little one's balance and ability to hold themselves in different positions, which will help to encourage them to roll over. You can carry your baby around the house this way, or, better yet, you can dance with your baby! Turn on some music, get in front of a mirror for the baby's viewing pleasure, and move them through space in all these positions as you bounce, sing, and smile. You'd be surprised how much babies love this one! Be sure to STOP every 30 seconds or so to take a 10-second break to give the baby's nervous system a chance to fully process and adjust to the movements (their system will sort of "tune out" the movements if you keep going long enough).
12. Wear your young baby in a carrier that keeps their legs in a frog-like position
rather than separating them into a straddle position. These carriers encourage engagement at the midline, which, as noted previously, is important in the development of rolling. Such baby carriers include the over-the-shoulder Maya Wrap as well as more symmetrical carriers such as the Moby Wrap, Baby K'tan Baby Carrier, and Ergo Baby Carrier. All of these carriers allow your young baby to be carried in a frog-like position.
13. Give A Helping Hand.
Give them a hand if your baby gets halfway into a roll but gets stuck! Helping them overcome that sticking point over and over again will teach them what it actually feels like to roll.
TOP TIP: Some babies get shocked and may cry the first time they roll over. This is normal; you simply need to comfort them and let them know there is nothing to be scared of.
14. Celebrate Their Success!
Your baby is not too young to understand positive reinforcement. When they switch back to the front, they offer lots of clapping, squeals, and smiles to help them associate their new accomplishment with positive feelings. Then, allow them to show off their new talents by giving them plenty of time on the floor to practice and master rolling.
15. Don't worry.
Every baby is different. Just because your friend's little one rolled over at 3 months doesn't mean that is the standard for this skill. Each baby develops at a different pace, and as long as they can hold their head up when laying on their belly, they'll eventually get to the rolling-over stage.
Use milestone checklists in the Pathfinder Health app to track your child's skills and progress, and always speak with your pediatrician if you're concerned about your child's motor development.
How long and how often?
Start with the basics, have fun, and let the baby be your guide. We're not training babies for the Infant Olympics!
At 2+ months, aim to play on the floor for at least 90 minutes a day. This includes your tummy time play. Encourage your baby to move toward toys or people in the room while you're playing on the floor. Rolling will come as the baby becomes motivated to get to people and things.
What To Expect Next After Your Baby Rolls Over?
Rolling over is a significant accomplishment, but your baby will soon be on to the next thing and increasingly mobile. Your baby is always working on that next milestone, so enjoy (and encourage) these early ones when you can.
The muscles that are involved in your little one's rolling over are the same that help them crawl and sit. They developed leg, arm, neck, back, and abdominal muscles while learning to roll over. They'll put these muscles to work as they learn how to sit (first with a hand from you, then unassisted), rock on all fours, and crawl. Most of them master sitting up without support sometime between 6 and 9 months.
From there, they may start crawling and later master standing up. After they know how to crawl and stand with the best of them, they'll be ready to take their first steps and start walking on their own two feet.
As always, check in with your physician if you're concerned about the timing and nature of any baby milestones. And don't forget to enjoy the ride! This first year of baby rolls, smiles, coos, and steps are one of the most fun.
Please share this information with people who may find it helpful…the more they know about it, the better for our babies.