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How to teach baby to roll over? Infant health experts weigh in

how to teach baby to roll over

It's amazing what your baby becomes capable of doing as they grow and develop over the months, but sometimes you might want to give them a helping hand in reaching new milestones like rolling over.

Here, we'll give you advice from real baby experts on how to teach your baby to roll independently - and how to keep them safe in the process.

In this article:

  • Baby development: when can my baby roll?

  • Teaching your baby to roll over

  • Exercises to get your baby rolling

  • Safety first

  • Key takeaways

  • Most asked questions

Baby development: when can my baby roll?

Though it's easy to think of your baby's development in terms of milestones to hit, the reality is closer to them slowly growing and changing while reaching these milestones on the way. Case in point, rolling - your baby won't go from totally immobile to rolling all over your apartment floor!

It takes time for them to build the upper body muscles they need to do this, and you'll see signs like rocking back and forth and kicking their legs more frequently before you actually see them complete a full roll.

how to practice rolling over with baby

how to help baby roll over

Most babies begin to show signs of rolling at around 3 or 4 months old, but this isn't a hard and fast rule. Because your baby's rolling is dependent on their physical development - and every baby develops at their own pace - you may find that your baby starts rolling earlier or later than expected, and that's perfectly normal!

Here's what pediatric occupational therapist Bree from Sprout + Thrive has to say about the importance of rolling:

'Rolling is one of the first transitional movements a baby completes. It is a building block for more complicated movements to come, like sitting, reaching and crawling. It is how baby begins to move from his/her belly to back (~3-4 months old) and back to belly (~5 months old).

It leads to consecutive rolling so baby can log roll across the room to get to a toy. Rolling also primes the body’s nervous, muscular, and sensory systems for the more complex movements to come.'

Teaching your baby to roll over

Once your baby has started to show signs of rolling, you might want to start teaching them how to roll properly from their back to their belly and back over again. Though it's more than likely that they'll achieve this milestone all by themselves, assisting them is still great for their physical and cognitive development, especially if they're a little slower to get rolling than you were expecting.

It's also a good idea to teach your baby to roll over if you find them sleeping on their front after you put them to bed on their back. Though some babies prefer to tummy sleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends that they're put to bed on their back until their first birthday, and they're safest if they can confidently roll onto their back again without your help at night and during naps.

Activities to get your baby rolling

Now you know that it's possible to get your baby to roll, it's time to think about how to practice rolling over with baby. Here are just a few expert-approved methods of teaching your baby the skills they need to roll:

Tummy time to practice rolling over with baby

how to help baby roll over: tummy time sleep

This is one of the first exercises your baby will ever do, and it's important to keep having tummy time for longer periods each day to help your baby's muscles develop properly. Along with being a great opportunity for baby play and bonding, tummy time is also the perfect part of the day to practice rolling - or at least help your little one train up for it!

Mom of five Patricia Barnes at MomLovesBest sings the praises of tummy time and how it can teach your baby to roll:

'You can help your baby to roll over by letting them spend lots of time on the floor, on their tummy. Tummy time helps your child build up the flexibility and strength they need in their back, belly, arms, and legs.

how to help baby roll over - tummy sleeper

Place your baby on their belly on a clean play mat or towel on the floor. Place attractive, bright, and colorful objects around them. This encourages your child to turn their head to view things. Start out for three to five minutes three times a day, building up to about 15 mins.

Your baby can enjoy tummy time before you leave the hospital. By laying your baby on their tummy, on your tummy, you will be helping your little one accept belly down as a position. This makes them less likely to protest tummy time later on.'

Use gravity to practice rolling over with baby

Rolling requires a lot of upper body strength and coordination on your baby's part, and while you can roll over in bed without even thinking about it, it's a lot harder for your baby to reach that tipping point! That's why physical therapist Lindsey Moss from NAPA recommends using gravity's natural pull to give your baby a helping hand:

'Initiating rolling (whether on their back or their belly) requires movement against gravity which can be difficult for your little one to start 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 to complete the last half of the movement. 

In this position, gravity will help them rather than work against them.  As your child improves, you can begin to increase the amount of the motion they are doing within the transition.'

Roll them over yourself

how to help baby roll over - moms love

Again, while rolling is totally natural to adults, babies just aren't used to all the new movements and motor skills required to do it yet, and might even need a little tutorial from mom. Demonstrated here by pediatric occupational therapist and YouTuber Emma Hubbard, it can often help to physically move your baby's arms and legs to help them understand the muscles that they have to use to roll. If you make this a regular part of your tummy time, you'll probably find that your baby starts rolling all on their own pretty soon after!

Make use of toys to practice rolling over with baby

Every parent knows their baby's favorite toys - and often has a hard time getting them out of their baby's hands! When it comes to teaching your baby to roll, you can use this to your advantage - Emma Hubbard also recommends strategic toy placement that keeps the item within their field of view but just out of reach so that they have to roll over to get to it.

This is perfect for babies who don't seem all too interested in rolling; once their special blanket or teddy bear gets involved, it usually becomes a different story!

Baby rolling: safety first

Like with any new milestone, reaching it means that you're leaving behind some of the tools of techniques you were using before. In this case, when your baby starts to show any signs of rolling over, you'll need to stop swaddling them.

how to help baby roll over

This is to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) that can occur if your baby is on their front and unable to move into a safer position.

If your baby can't be swaddled anymore but still craves the comfort of the swaddle blanket, check out our Zen Sack! Gently weighted to mimic your soothing touch, this sleep sack is perfect for transitioning little ones out of the swaddle while still helping them sleep through the night. And it can even be worn back to front for happily rolling tummy sleepers!

how to help baby roll over with swaddle

You'll also want to be careful during tummy time and other exercises that your baby is on the floor and nowhere near any drops or ledges.

You should also remove any non-baby safe objects out of reach and supervise them at all times - after all, tummy time is a great bonding experience! Lactation expert Wendy Wisner weighs in here on supervising your little one:

'Remember that tummy time is only for babies who are awake and supervised. The safest position to leave a baby unsupervised is in their crib (or other safe, contained, baby-proofed space) on their backs.'

Key takeaways

It's important to remember that there's no one 'correct' age for your baby to roll over, so don't stress if they're a little behind or ahead of the schedule that you expected. That said, a little extra help never hurts, and teaching your baby to start rolling can be beneficial for their development later down the line.

Here's a quick roundup of the key points we've covered in this blog:

  • Your baby will typically start showing signs of rolling at 3 or 4 months, though earlier or later than this is also perfectly normal

  • Rolling is the first major mobility milestone your baby will reach, and paves the way for sitting up, crawling, and eventually standing and walking

  • Tummy time is essential for developing the upper body muscles your baby needs to start rolling

  • You can physically roll your baby yourself to show them how it works, and even start them on their side to let gravity do some of the work

  • If your baby isn't interested in rolling, some gentle encouragement in the form of their favorite toy can help

  • Once your baby starts rolling, it's time to stop swaddling and switch to sleepwear like our Zen Sack

Most asked questions about teaching your baby to roll

How do I get my baby to practice rolling over?

If you want to encourage baby to roll over but they're uninterested or reluctant, there are a few tips and tricks you can use. Firstly, you don't have to have them fully rolling right away - you can start slowly with smaller exercises that help build the muscles in your baby's head and neck that are essential to rolling and other milestones.

After that, you can introduce your baby's favorite toys into the mix - giving them a little extra motivation for rolling can help parents of even the fussiest babies teach them to roll independently.

What makes a baby roll over easier?

If your baby is having a hard time rolling during tummy time, you might find that physically rolling them yourself teaches them which muscles and movements they need to use to do it properly.

If they're having some trouble getting over that initial roll from back to side, placing them on their side can help, as it gives your baby a little extra pull from gravity while still teaching them how rolling works. You could also use baby equipment like a wedge to position them at a sloper angle (but never place these with your baby unsupervised, especially in their crib at night).

What if my baby is not rolling over at 4 months?

Though 3 or 4 months is the average time for a baby to start rolling, your little one isn't a statistic, and they'll develop at their own pace. This doesn't mean that anything is wrong with them - just that some areas of development might take a little more time.

You may find in the future too that they're slower to reach some milestones and surprisingly early with others - you never know, and a month or two's difference from the average age is completely normal.

What if my baby is not rolling over at 6 months?

If you're worried that there may be a reason why your baby isn't rolling over yet, we recommend that you speak to your pediatrician to ensure that your baby's muscles are developing healthily.

When should a baby be able to roll tummy to back?

Generally speaking, the first time your baby rolls from one position to another it will be from their tummy to their back. This tends to happen at around the 4-month mark - you may notice signs like rocking back and forth every so often for a few weeks before your baby fully rolls for the first time.

At what age do babies roll from back to belly?

Rolling from back to belly usually comes after belly to back, with most babies being able to roll in both directions at around 6 months old. Many parents first discover that their baby can do this because they've rolled over in the night to tummy sleep - while your baby should be safe if they do this, you should still place them to sleep on their back until they're a year old, and gently roll them over if you find them in this position.

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Athena S.

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