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Baby rolling over in sleep: What to do and safe sleeping tips

If you're a new parent, it's easy to get carried away worrying about your baby, especially when it comes to leaving them to sleep at night. And if your baby is rolling around in the night when you aren't around to put them onto their back, your anxieties might get even worse at bedtime!

We all want to help our babies sleep, and you need to make sure that they're sleeping safely too, especially when they start rolling. If you want to know why your baby has started rolling in their sleep, as well as what to do next, keep reading for our advice and information on:

  • Why it happens

  • Sleep safety

  • What to do

  • Stomach sleeping

  • Commonly asked questions

Why it happens

Reaching a new milestone is an exciting time for babies and parents alike, whether that means your little one is saying their first words or taking their first steps.

One of the first milestones your baby will reach is being able to roll over independently - this usually happens at around 3 or 4 months old, but can start as early as 2 months!

Once your baby has learned this new skill, it's tempting for them to want to practice it whenever they can - even when they should be sleeping!

But don't worry, as your baby will settle down again soon, and though it can be concerning when your baby starts rolling, it's actually a sign of healthy development and shouldn't be prevented.

Instead, you might need to make some changes to make sure that your baby's sleeping space is still safe even with this newfound skill.

Sleep safety

If you're swaddling your baby and they've started to show signs of rolling over independently, it's time to transition to a sleep sack or similar sleepwear. This is because a swaddled, sleeping baby who has rolled onto their front faces a higher potential risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

To ensure safe infant sleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that young babies shouldn't be swaddled once they show signs of rolling, and that your baby's crib should be clear of loose blankets, stuffed animals, and objects like infant sleep positioners until they reach 12 months.

As long as you're creating a safe infant sleeping environment, your baby should be able to roll in the night without issue.

What to do when rolling causes night waking

The last thing you want as a parent is a baby who suddenly can't stay asleep through the night! If your baby has been waking up in the night after rolling over in their sleep, there are a few things to bear in mind:

No need to roll baby back

Though you might be tempted to roll your baby back over onto their back, this isn't actually necessary.

Stomach sleeping is perfectly safe if you know that your baby can definitely roll back again without issue, and if you're following safe sleep practices like keeping objects away from your baby's sleep surface.

You might find that your baby rolls once or twice at an early age and then doesn't again for a few weeks - at this point, you should still make sure that you stop swaddling soon. Your baby may even start rolling in their sleep before they can intentionally when they're awake!

Until you're certain that your baby is able to roll from their front to back and vice versa, it's best for them to be on their back to lower the associated risk of sleep-related infant deaths.

Waking up crying

It can be tough soothing a baby back to sleep, especially when it's the middle of the night and you're a little cranky yourself! When your baby reaches a new milestone, it's common for sleep to become disrupted as they practice their new abilities at night, and because they might wake themselves up accidentally when sleeping.

If your baby is starting to wake up in the night more frequently, you can try to make their sleeping environment calmer to make them feel more comfortable as they fall back to sleep.

For instance, you can try using blackout blinds or a baby-safe white noise machine to reduce any chances of overstimulation and help your baby sleep without disturbances.

You could also try our Zen Sack - perfect for new rollers who've grown out of the swaddle! With a gently weighted pad that helps to mimic your soothing touch, this sleep sack is perfect for keeping nighttime wakeups to a minimum.

Help baby practice rolling over

It's exciting to see your baby rolling, and to imagine all the new movements they'll be practicing in months to come! But first things first - for healthy development and to lay the foundation for future milestones, it's vital to give your baby plenty of time to practice each new skill as it arrives.

Here are just a few different ways that you can get your baby rolling independently for safe sleeping through the night:

Tummy time

It's one of the first exercises your baby will ever do and is an important part of their routine right up to toddlerhood - tummy time!

A period of supervised time on their front while awake, tummy time is vital for developing upper body muscles in your baby's neck, arms, shoulders, and chest, and for preventing conditions such as flat head syndrome - plus, it's a great opportunity for some parent-baby bonding!

By slowly working up from just a couple of minutes a day during the newborn stage to around a full hour by 3 months, you'll be aiding your baby's physical development and giving them the valuable opportunity to practice new milestones like rolling over independently.

Avoid equipment

While tummy time allows your baby some free movement, equipment like swings and baby bouncers can be restrictive at a time when your baby wants to be up and exploring what they can do.

Though they're great for keeping your baby occupied and entertained, they can also become repetitive and frustrating for a baby who's craving a little more adventure.

To help your baby achieve healthy muscle development and develop confidence in their new abilities, you should make sure they have plenty of time to move around freely without being tied down by devices like these.

Simulate rolling motions

Though your baby might be rolling over in their sleep, it might be tough for them to remember exactly how to do it when they're awake.

That's why it can be useful to show them yourself by gently guiding them into a rolling motion when you're having tummy time - not only will this help to jog their memory, but it will also provide some gentle exercise for their developing muscles.

As time goes on, you can reduce the amount that you help your baby to roll over during tummy time, until they're able to do it all on their own!

Rock side to side

This goes hand in hand with helping your baby roll over. By gently rocking your baby from side to side, you're teaching them about the momentum they'll need to do this themselves, and also helping to strengthen the muscles they'll need to use to roll around independently when they're ready.

When you're doing exercises and activities like this with your little one, make sure they're having a good time and aren't getting too frustrated or tired - you want to make sure that they're associating these new developments with having fun, or they may not want to do them as much!

Encourage with toys

Sometimes, it just takes a little extra encouragement for your baby to be rolling enthusiastically - that's where their toys can come in handy! If your baby has a stuffed animal they've loved since they were born or a blanket that never leaves their side, this can be used to encourage them to roll in a certain direction.

For example, if you strategically place a toy so that it's in your baby's eye line when they turn their head, you're helping to develop their neck muscles, and they may even try rolling over to reach it!

Just make sure your baby is supervised when using this technique - you shouldn't leave any toys or loose blankets in their crib until they're at least a year old.

What to do when baby rolls over in sleep: Key takeaways

Though it can get frustrating if your baby is experiencing wakeups due to rolling in their sleep, it's important to remember two things: their disrupted sleep is temporary, and the new skills they're learning aren't!

Beginning to roll is an exciting first step towards milestones that will allow your little one to explore further and further, so beyond anything else, enjoy the ride and remember what we've covered here today:

  • When your baby first starts rolling, they might want to practice their skills at night

  • If your baby has started showing signs of rolling, make sure to stop swaddling

  • Don’t panic - it's perfectly safe for a baby to tummy sleep if they're capable of rolling independently

  • The Zen One swaddle is perfect for this milestone - just zip off the detachable sleeves and the swaddle becomes a sleep sack!

  • Keep a clear sleep space to lower the risk of SIDS

  • Tummy time is the perfect time for your baby to practice rolling

  • Simulate rolling motions to get them used to the feeling of rolling

  • Rock your baby side to side to help train their muscles and teach them the right motions to roll

Commonly asked questions about rolling babies

When will my baby start rolling over?

Typically, your baby will start rolling over at around 3 or 4 months old, though it's perfectly normal for them to start as early as 2 months. At this point, you'll want to stop swaddling them, as a swaddled baby who has rolled onto their front in the night faces a higher risk of SIDS.

Our Zen One is the perfect sleepwear for the transition away from swaddling! With a gently weighted pad to mimic your soothing touch and help your baby fall asleep, and detachable quick-drying mesh sleeves that can be easily zippered off, your baby can have the same comfort as the swaddle while staying safe with their arms free.

Is tummy sleeping safe for my baby?

When your baby is in the newborn stage, and for a while after, the advice remains the same: place your little one on their back to sleep. This is to reduce the risk of SIDS and keep your baby safe through the night.

However, if your baby is able to roll over - and isn't swaddled - don't panic if you find them rolling onto their tummy in the night!

You should keep placing them on their back to sleep until they're a year old, but as long as your baby can independently roll without your help, they'll be fine sleeping on their front if that's how they position themselves during sleep.

When should you stop swaddling?

You should stop swaddling your baby once they start showing signs of rolling over, which usually happens around 3 or 4 months of age but can happen earlier than this. This is because it's dangerous for a swaddled baby to roll onto their front and be unable to roll back again.

When it's time to leave the swaddle behind, you can transition to a sleep sack like our Zen Sack to keep your rolling baby feeling snug and secure through the night.

How much tummy time should my baby have?

Tummy time should be practiced right from when you take your baby home, though only for a couple of minutes per day. You can increase this amount by a few minutes every few days, with the goal ideally being a full hour of tummy time by the time your baby is around 3 months old.

However, if your baby takes a little more time than this, that's perfectly normal and shouldn't be worried about. As long as you're practicing it regularly and making sure your baby's muscles are getting a chance to strengthen and develop, you're doing great!

Athena S.

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