When it finally happens, your baby’s surprised expression says it all: Rolling over for the first time is a big deal 🙃 Rolling helps your baby learn how different parts of their body move, while strengthening their core and back muscles. These important muscle groups will later support your baby in sitting up, standing, and even walking.
In this article:
- When do babies roll over?
- What are the stages of learning to roll over?
- What are the signs my baby is ready to roll over?
- How can I help my baby roll over?
- What to do when your baby keeps rolling out of tummy time
- What to do if your baby rolls over in their sleep
- Safety tips for when your baby begins to roll
- Developmental concerns with rolling
When do babies roll over?
Babies learn to roll from their belly to their back between 3 and 5.5 months of age, on average—some will learn sooner, some slightly later. By 6 months, 75% of babies have learned this skill. Rolling from back to belly requires a bit more coordination—babies usually learn this skill around 5 to 7 months.
If your 3-month-old rolled a few times as a newborn but hasn’t done it lately, don’t worry. Before 3 months of age, rolling over is likely to be accidental. So while your newborn may occasionally roll onto their side, or roll from their belly to their back during tummy time, they may not repeat this movement until they learn how to do it intentionally.
What are the stages of learning to roll over?
Every child’s development path is unique, but generally speaking, babies learn to roll in a series of stages:
- Rolling from back to side (3 to 5 months)
- Rolling from belly to back (3 to 5.5 months, with the average between 4 and 5 months)
- Rolling from back to belly (5 to 7 months)
If your baby happens to learn back-to-belly rolling first, that’s okay. Sometimes babies who really enjoy tummy time learn to roll from back to belly before rolling belly to back.
Here’s what the progression of learning to roll over looks like for many babies:
Rolling from back to side (3 to 5 months)
Your baby’s first step in learning to roll over is figuring out how to roll onto one side from their back. This commonly happens around 3 to 5 months of age, and may be unintentional the first few times until your baby gets the hang of it. They will likely begin this roll by reaching their opposite arm across their tummy.
Rolling from belly to back (3 to 5.5 months)
Many babies first roll from their belly to their back during tummy time. Around 3 to 5 months of age, your baby may gain the strength to push up on their arms during tummy time, making it easier for them to roll. Eventually, they’ll learn to push up while shifting their hips and rotating their legs in order to roll onto their back.
Rolling from back to belly (5 to 7 months)
Your baby may begin rolling from their back to their belly around 5 to 7 months of age, usually after they’ve learned to roll in the other direction. Learning to roll from their back to their belly requires quite a lot of core strength, upper and lower body strength, head control, and coordination.
What are the signs my baby is ready to roll over?
Here are some tummy time skills to watch for that may suggest your baby is ready to start rolling over from their belly to back:
- Lifts and turns their head to track an object
- Reaches forward for a toy or overhead
- Actively keeps their arms tucked as they push up to forearms
- Shifts their body weight by rolling from tummy to side
As your baby gets stronger, you may see signs that they’re getting ready to roll over from back to belly, especially when they’re playing on the floor. Here are some skills that suggest your baby is ready to start rolling from their back to their belly:
- Rolls from back to side
- Grasps both feet and holds them
- Tucks their chin as they’re gently pulled up to a sitting position
- Reaches up and across their tummy, or the “midline” of their body
How can I help my baby roll over?
The most effective way to help your baby start to roll is to give them lots of supervised play time on the floor. Babies need time on a play mat or blanket to stretch out and get a sense of their body and what the different parts do. Tummy time, side-lying, and back play also build your baby’s arm, neck, head and shoulder muscles. Research suggests tummy time is especially helpful for encouraging babies to experiment with rolling.
How to teach your baby to roll from back to side (3 to 5 months)
A simple way to teach your baby to roll from their back to their side is to guide them slowly through this movement, practicing on both sides. Start by gently bringing your baby’s leg across their body, then wait for them to move the rest of their body into a side-lying position. Diaper changes are a good time to practice this movement.
Encouraging your baby to kick during playtime can also help them build muscle strength and coordination in their core and legs so they can start to roll over onto one side from their back. Your baby is figuring out that their legs and feet are parts of their body. When they kick, they start to understand that they can create noise or movement. When your baby looks down at their legs and feet, this chin tuck helps build strength for rolling over from back to side and eventually, from back to belly.
Here are some ideas for kicking play to encourage rolling from back to side:
- Lay your baby on the floor in Play Socks and show them how they can make crinkle or rattle noises by shaking their legs
- Wedge some tissue paper under a couch cushion for your baby to kick
- Place them on their back with their feet near the Making Sounds area of The Play Gym
The Play Gym
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How to teach your baby to roll from belly to back (3 to 5.5 months)
In order to roll from belly to back, your baby needs enough neck and upper body strength to lift their chest off the floor and shift their body weight. Here are a few things you can do to help build muscle strength during tummy time:
Start by checking your baby’s position: At first, your baby may not have figured out how to tuck their arm, and can have difficulty rolling over it if it’s extended behind them or spread out wide. Position your baby with their arms tucked under their chest to make it easier for them to roll from their belly to back. Playthings that encourage reaching in front of their chest, like the Spinning Rainbow, can be a great way to get your baby to adjust their arms in tummy time.
Encourage lifting and turning the head and chest: Prop the Framed Mirror against a chair so your baby is motivated to lift their head and chest. You can also shake the Rolling Bell just above eye level to encourage lifting. Once your baby can easily lift their head, slowly move the plaything to their shoulder and hold it for a few seconds before moving to the other side. This will encourage them to rotate their head, which shifts their weight, strengthening the opposite shoulder.
Let your baby reach up and to the side for toys: Help them work on belly-to-back rolling by holding a plaything above their shoulder while they’re on their tummy and encouraging them to reach up for it. Any plaything that makes a sound, such as the Wooden Rattle or the Crinkle Bag, works especially well to capture their attention. This will prompt your baby to shift their weight onto one arm and turn their head while reaching. Gravity often takes care of the rest at this age. If your baby’s supporting arm extends out wide with each attempted reach, gently hold their shoulder to help their arm stay tucked.
Play peekaboo: While your baby is on their tummy, place a pillow or shoe box in front of them and outside of their reach. Play peekaboo by “peeking” a plaything—or your face—over the box and then dropping below it out of sight. Many babies who play this game press up in an effort to look over the box to see where the toy went. Pressing up on straight arms helps strengthen your baby’s upper body muscles to help them roll.
How to teach your baby to roll from back to belly (5 to 7 months)
Rolling from back to belly is typically a bit more challenging, because your baby needs to bring their arm and leg across the midline, or center of their body. This requires more core strength and coordination, because your baby has to work against gravity to initiate the movement. Although most babies learn this after rolling from belly to back, your baby might surprise you and learn this type of roll first.
Here are a few ways to encourage your baby to start rolling from back to belly:
Foot play: A great way to help your baby develop the strength and skills to roll from back to belly is to encourage lots of foot play. Put the Play Socks on your baby’s feet. The rattles on the socks make noise when they kick. Another idea is to put big, loose socks on your baby’s feet and show them how to pull off the socks. These activities prompt your baby to reach for and grasp their feet, which strengthens their core in preparation for rolling from back to belly. If your baby isn’t reaching for their feet, roll up a small towel and place it underneath their bottom to bring their feet closer into their line of sight.
Side-lying play: You can also place your baby in side-lying positions during playtime to increase their body awareness—be sure to give them practice on both sides. This position also gives your baby opportunities to roll from side to back and from side to belly. With your baby on their side, place a plaything like the Spinning Rainbow or Rolling Bell in front of them to encourage reaching across their body, which can lead to a side-to-belly roll.
The reach-and-roll: While your baby is lying on their back, place a toy an arm’s length away from them at a diagonal from their shoulder. When your baby reaches for it with the same arm, their weight will shift from their back to their side, and then onto their belly. If they don’t try to reach across their body when the toy is at their side, you can hold it in front of them. This encourages your baby to reach up as you slowly move the toy across their body and to the side. As they attempt to reach for the toy, help them along by moving their leg toward the toy. Watch their reaction when they find themselves rolled onto their tummy facing the toy.
Chin tuck: Rolling requires your baby to use their neck flexor muscles to lift their head up and to the side. Strengthen these muscles by playing a fun game of pull-to-sit, where you hold your baby’s hands and slowly pull them up from their back into sitting, give them kisses, then slowly guide them down to their back. Since it may be hard for your baby to control their head when going down, make sure to practice this activity on a cushioned mat or inclined surface like a pillow.
Watch pediatric physical therapist Gisele Tadros demonstrate how to help your baby roll into tummy time in this video from the Lovevery app:
What to do when your baby keeps rolling out of tummy time
Once your baby learns to roll over both ways, you may find that they no longer want to stay in tummy time for long. This isn’t a problem, but it’s good to encourage tummy time for your baby as long as you can. Tummy time strengthens your baby’s muscles and can help develop the skills they need for crawling.
Lovevery’s pediatric occupational and physical therapists recommend a combination of these strategies to encourage tummy time:
- Gently keep a hand on your baby during tummy time.
- Use positions that reduce your baby’s opportunities for rolling: Try laying your baby on their tummy across your lap, on your torso, and over a nursing pillow. Supervise closely to make sure your baby doesn’t roll off.
- Let your baby roll out of tummy time, give them a brief break, and then help them roll back onto their belly.
- Incorporate movement in your baby’s tummy time, like gentle rocking on an exercise ball.
What to do if your baby rolls over in their sleep
Placing your baby on their back for sleep is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But what should you do if your baby rolls over onto their tummy in their sleep?
If your baby is only rolling from back to belly, and not the reverse, help them return to their back when they get stuck on their belly. Rather than picking up your baby and putting them down on their back, leave your baby in their crib and gently roll their body over. With time and practice, they will master the belly-to-back roll and use that skill to reposition themselves—even at night.
While your baby’s risk for SIDS drops at around 6 months of age, it’s still a good idea to place them on their back to sleep. According to safe sleep guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you don’t have to flip your baby over onto their back once they’re rolling both ways.
Is your baby showing signs of rolling? Experts say, stop swaddling
Another important safety note: Once your baby shows signs of rolling, it’s time to stop swaddling them for sleep. Unswaddled, your baby can use their arms and upper body to roll either way if they need to get into a different sleeping position.
For rolling babies, Lovevery’s sleep expert recommends trading the swaddle for a sleep sack. A safe alternative to blankets, sleep sacks help your baby feel cozy when they’re going to sleep, while allowing greater freedom of movement. Some sleep sacks have sleeves, which can help ease the transition out of a swaddle. Anticipate a day or two of bumpy sleep as your baby adjusts to their new freedom. With a little practice, they should become more comfortable with their new freedom to move.
Please review and follow safe sleeping guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). If you have non-emergency concerns about your child’s atypical sleep habits or behavior, please consult with your pediatrician. For urgent health concerns of any kind—sleep-related or otherwise—please call 911 or your local equivalent.
Safety tips for when your baby begins to roll
Once your baby can roll over, they may surprise you with when and where they practice their new skill 🙃 Follow these tips to keep your baby secure once they can roll:
Provide a safe sleep environment. Your baby’s crib should not have blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, or positioners, which can be suffocation hazards. Ensure that the crib sheets are tightly fitted and use a stable crib. Once your baby is rolling, bassinets or cradles can be too wobbly or small. Also discontinue using a swaddle once your baby can roll. Instead, use a sleep sack to keep them cozy.
Keep a hand on your baby during diaper changes. Once your baby can roll, they can easily fall off a raised surface. If you typically change your baby’s diaper on a changing table or bed, be mindful of your rolling baby’s new skills. It’s always a good idea to keep a hand on your baby while changing their diaper and use the changing table’s safety strap, if there is one.
Keep your eye on a rolling baby. You might be surprised how mobile your baby is once they can roll. Never leave them unattended where they might roll into sharp corners or down stairs. Keep stairs gated and put away sharp or small objects.
Babyproof your home. Rolling over is just the beginning of your baby’s path toward greater mobility. It’s always a good idea to babyproof your home well in advance of your baby’s next developmental stage. Now is a great time to cover outlets, secure strings or ties for window coverings, and install safety latches on cabinets and drawers.
Developmental concerns with rolling
Each child’s developmental journey is unique and milestone age ranges are based on averages. Most babies learn to roll in both directions by about 7 months of age.
If your baby is showing no signs of rolling over at 7 months or is only rolling to one side, bring your questions or concerns to your pediatrician. They can assess your baby’s development and recommend a physical or occupational therapist, if needed. You may also reach out to your state’s early intervention program to see if your baby is eligible for services.
Meet the Experts
Learn more about the Lovevery child development experts who created this story.
Research & Resources
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American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021, March 8). Movement milestones: Babies 4 to 7 months. HealthyChildren.org. Retrieved May 17, 2023, from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Movement-4-to-7-Months.aspx
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