Rolling over is baby’s first big movement milestone. They need to roll over before they can sit up on their own, crawl, stand, and eventually walk! But when do babies typically roll over? How can you encourage them to roll over? And what to do if they roll over during sleep? We’ve got all the answers here.
When do babies roll over?
Babies will usually start rolling over from their tummy to their back between 3 and 6 months of age. According to the new, adjusted baby milestones released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 75% of babies should be able to roll from tummy to back by 6 months of age.
Many babies can also roll over in both directions (from tummy to back and back to tummy) starting between 6 and 7 months of age.
Keep in mind that several skills lead up to rolling over, as they show that baby is developing the muscles that they need to roll. Baby will need to lift their head, and hold it up unassisted, before rolling for the first time. If baby reaches for and holds things, and can push up with their arms while on their tummy, these are other signs that rolling is next on the list. Most babies start developing these skills between 4 and 6 months of age.
Don’t worry if baby isn’t rolling over by 6 months, as long as they are showing the signs that they are working towards rolling. But if baby shows none of these signs by 6 months, talk to your pediatrician.
How to encourage baby to roll over?
Now that you know when most babies roll over, and signs that baby will soon be ready to roll, how can you encourage your little one to reach this key milestone? Follow these 5 steps.
1. Give baby plenty of tummy time.
Tummy time is vital exercise time for baby – and you can start tummy time as early as their first week. Giving baby time to move on their tummy helps them build the back, neck, arm, and other muscles they need to hold their head up, push up with their elbows, and eventually roll over.
How to do tummy time? Place baby on their tummy on a soft, flat, and safe surface, such as a tummy time mat or carpeted floor. Make sure that you and baby are both fully awake, and be sure to watch them the whole time for safety.
For the youngest babies (less than a month old), initial tummy times should be about 5 minutes long and happen 2-3 times per day. Then, gradually increase the amount of time baby spends on their tummy. By 3 or 4 months of age, baby should spend half an hour to an hour per day on their tummy, divided into 2 to 3 sessions.
During tummy time, hold up enticing toys, such as ones with bold patterns, light, or a sound. Then, place the toys to the side of baby, and just out of baby’s reach, so they will try to grasp the toys. This may lead baby to roll – or at least roll part of the way. Even if rolling doesn’t happen, this activity still helps them build the strength needed for rolling!
Other tummy time activities will also help build muscles for rolling, too. For instance, try placing toys in a circle around baby, so they will need to move around to different positions to grab them.
Learn all the essentials and tips for a successful tummy time in our detailed tummy time guide.
2. Give them back and side time, too.
Floor playtime shouldn’t be limited to tummy time. Change up baby’s position to the back and both sides at playtime. This will also help them build up muscles needed to roll over as they move and play.
- For back time, try a play gym or toys held above them, which will encourage them to move their arms and kick out. You could also move a toy back and forth over their head, to encourage them to move their head and body.
- And for side time, place toys just out of reach so your little one will have to move to get them.
Give lots of floor time, in all positions, to encourage muscle-building. Baby needs time and space to move around! Time in bouncers, bassinets, and swings won’t help baby meet developmental milestones like rolling.
3. Assist baby in rolling.
There are a few different ways to help baby roll over, as they’re still learning the motions to complete a roll on their own.
In the first method, you lay baby on their side and support their back with a rolled towel or blanket. Then, place an interesting toy just out of their reach, so they have to complete the roll to reach it. Why is the support so helpful? A roll requires baby to fight against gravity using their muscles. If their muscles don’t quite have the strength to roll over on their own, the support lets baby use gravity to their advantage.
A second method to encourage rolling is to hold a toy right above baby when they are on their back, towards the middle of their body.
- Move the toy around to get baby’s attention.
- Then, move the toy past their eyes, and continue to hold it above them so it’s above their shoulder.
- When baby moves to look at the toy, this will encourage them to lift their shoulder, rotate their trunk, and roll to the side, then over onto their tummy.
Yet another way to help them roll is to help them shift their weight. Babies’ heads make them top-heavy, but they need to shift their weight through their pelvis and legs to roll.
Support the process of rolling from back to tummy like this:
- Hold their left leg straight with one hand.
- Place your other hand on their right hip.
- Gently guide their right hip over the top of their left leg and onto the ground, completing the roll onto their tummy.
- Reposition their hands as needed, if baby’s hands are caught under their tummy.
To practice rolling onto the tummy from the other direction, reverse what you do with each leg – position baby on their back, hold the right leg straight, support the left hip, and guide that hip over the top of their right leg. Make sure to practice on both sides equally!
As baby gets older, start the process by supporting their hip and moving one hip over the other leg. Stop when baby is on their side, and see if they finish the roll on their own. If not, continue to support the hip and tip baby forward so gravity will complete the roll. Give less and less support as baby builds their muscles and skills.
For a visual guide to assisting your baby with rolling using the methods above, watch this video from Emma Hubbard:
Alternatively, you can try gently rocking baby’s hips back and forth while they are on their back. While rocking at the hips, encourage the roll by slowly pushing baby on their bottom, towards the side position. Baby might even finish the roll onto their stomach on their own, since you helped shift the weight. If not, and support is still needed, gently move into the rest of the roll.
Watch this video from Pathways to see the hip-rocking process in action:
For an assisted roll from tummy to back, support baby’s hips so there’s more weight around their pelvis area, then gently move baby into the roll as you keep the weight on the hips.
These processes get baby used to the movement of rolling, and let them practice it – and help them build strength – until their muscles get strong enough for an unassisted roll.
4. Exercise baby’s muscles.
Try bicycling baby’s legs, doing the toe-to-ear exercise, or baby sit-ups to strengthen their muscles. We’ve got all the details on these exercises in our baby exercise guide.
You can also assist baby in sitting up, and move a toy to each side of their head to build up neck muscles while they remain in the supported seated position. Or, have baby wear wrist and sock rattles to encourage them to move their arms and legs.
5. Get excited when baby works towards rolling!
Milestones are exciting – and everyone loves to be praised for a job well done. Whenever baby shows progress towards rolling, smile, clap, and tell them that they did a good job. And when baby rolls over completely, it’s time to cheer, get excited, and give them lots of praise! This encouragement goes a long way.
What if baby rolls over in their sleep?
Regardless of if they’re rolling over, you should always put baby to sleep on their back, as that’s the safest sleep position. But what if baby rolls over onto their stomach while in their crib?
If baby rolls over in their sleep, there’s no reason to be concerned. Once baby is able to roll over onto the stomach during sleep, they’re also able to sense danger – they won’t stay in a position that impairs their breathing. So, if you notice that baby rolled onto their stomach during the night, there’s no reason to turn them back over to their back if they’re still sleeping.
Of course, if they wake and you remove them from their crib (such as for a feeding), put them on their back when you place them back in the crib.
There is a sleeping position you can use if you don’t want baby rolling over. As you lay baby on their back, extend one of their arms out in front of their chest. If baby tries to roll, they’ll naturally favor the side where the arm’s extended – and they won’t want to fully flip over because they don’t want their arm under their tummy.
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