When Do Babies Roll Over?
April 27, 2021
Have you been diligently practicing tummy time, all the while wondering—when do babies roll over? We don’t blame you. One of baby’s first milestones is rolling over, and it’s such a fun—not to mention important—development, since it’s the first sign baby is becoming more mobile and independent. Once baby can roll from belly to back and back to belly, sitting up and crawling are usually not far behind.
Keep reading for answers to all the frequently asked questions about baby rolling over, from what age do babies roll over to how to help baby learn to master this new trick all on their own.
Watching baby grow and gain strength is pretty thrilling, and it’s natural to wonder how soon they’ll be showing off their next big skill. So when do babies roll over?
The exact age babies roll over varies from child to child. Babies can start rolling over as young as 3 to 4 months old, says Deena Blanchard, MD, a pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics in New York City. It takes them a few months after birth to build up the necessary strength—including neck and arm muscles and good head control—to pull off this physical feat. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that by 7 months old, most babies have mastered the art of rolling over.
It’s possible for babies to roll over even earlier than the three- to four-month mark—but that tends to be more of an accidental flop and not an intentional movement. “Sometimes I get a 5-week-old who’s managed to flip herself over because they were frustrated doing tummy time, moving around a lot and not enjoying being on their stomach, so they accidentally rolled over,” Blanchard says. “It doesn’t mean they’ll continue to do so.”
Most babies will first start trying to roll from their stomachs onto their backs because it’s generally easier. “Babies are definitely helped by momentum and gravity,” Blanchard says. So when do babies start rolling over from their backs to the bellies? They tend to get this rolling motion down a month or so after they begin rolling from belly to back. If you notice baby trying to roll from back to tummy, though, don’t stop baby rolling over—it’s actually a good sign. According to Blanchard, “going from back to front definitely requires more strength, so if baby can do that, chances are they’re also capable of rolling from tummy to back.”
That’s why—although you should always put baby to sleep on their back to prevent SIDS—you don’t need to worry if baby rolls over while sleeping. “Once a baby can roll, if they roll to their stomach when they’re asleep, you don’t need to get up and keep flipping them,” Blanchard says.
Can a baby roll over too early?
Many babies will start to intentionally roll over when they’re around 3 or 4 months old, but some may accidentally flip over on occasion before then. However, “if they’re consistently rolling over at a very young age—before 3 months—and their muscles look very stiff, then it warrants a call to your pediatrician” to rule out a potential nervous system disorder or birth trauma, says Dina DiMaggio, MD, a pediatrician at NYU Langone in New York City.
Rolling over at a very young age could also potentially indicate abnormal reflexes. Newborns typically have what’s called a fencing reflex, which is meant to prevent them from rolling over in those first few weeks. When a newborn’s face is turned to one side, baby’s arm and leg on that side extend while the opposite arm and leg flex. “It’s nature’s built-in mechanism for preventing SIDS,” says Cheryl Wu, MD, a pediatrician based in New York City. As the reflex starts to disappear (it should be completely gone by 6 months old) and you notice baby has the strength and muscle tone to hold their head up more, you can take those as signs that you’ll soon see baby rolling over.
When it comes to big milestones, you’re probably keeping an eye out for signals that baby is ready to conquer new skills. (After all, you might want to have your camera ready for the special moment!) So what are some signs baby is close to rolling over?
You’ll likely start to notice progress around the 4-month-old mark—that’s when baby’s growing body starts to proportionally catch up to their head (which is comparatively large at birth) and baby’s overall muscle strength improves. It’s this combination that will help baby take that adorable mini push-up and roll with it into a bigger movement. “You’ll see baby slowly start lifting their head higher, then they’ll be able to push with their arms, and finally they’ll get their chest off the floor,” Blanchard says.
According to DiMaggio, some other signs baby is ready to roll over include:
- Rocking on their backs or bellies
- Kicking their legs back and forth and trying to cross one leg over their body
- Arching their backs
- Pushing up on their hands and lifting their chest off the ground
So how to teach baby to roll over? For starters, make sure your little one is getting plenty of tummy time. “For a newborn, tummy time is super-important muscle training,” Blanchard says, and their level of strength is key to determining when babies roll over.
Other than that, the best way for you to encourage baby to roll over is to physically guide them along, teaching baby what it feels like to move. “I put babies on their left side and extend the left arm so they don’t get stuck,” Wu says. “Then I pull gently on the right arm to teach them what it feels like to move.”
Keep in mind that the sensation of baby rolling over is completely new and can be a little shocking or scary. “They have this ‘what just happened?’ look on their faces,” Wu says. Don’t be surprised if baby cries at first. But after they experience it a few times—and hear you clapping and cheering—baby will be more eager to try it out.
Here’s how to help baby roll over all on their own:
• Turn tummy time into playtime. During tummy time, place toys out of baby’s reach to encourage your little one to roll toward them. You can also try getting down on one side of baby and talking to them. Be sure to give lots of positive reinforcement too. “At 4 months old, babies are social beings and love seeing their parents smile. If they see that rolling got a good result, they might be encouraged to keep trying,” Blanchard says, adding that if you have an older child, they can also get on the floor to cheer baby on. “This is a win-win, because baby is probably obsessed with their older sibling, and the big brother or big sister gets praised for interacting in a nice way. Tummy time can be a tool for bringing the family together.”
• Let baby go naked. Experiment with baby rolling over in a more, um, natural way. Try letting your little one spend some time naked on the floor each day, since diapers can restrict movement in the hips and legs. “This way babies are free to experiment and move around,” says Dan Rindler, director of Child’Space NYC, a program that teaches movement techniques to support infant development. “I’ve had many parents tell me baby did something new during the time the child was naked.”
• Stop swaddling. Swaddling baby for the first few months of life can be a great sleep aid, but by 3 to 4 months of age, they’ll likely be ready to sleep without a swaddle, Blanchard says. This not only helps lower the risk of suffocation but also lets baby practice rolling over in their sleep. “Babies experiment a lot with movement in their sleep, and being swaddled can limit that,” Rindler says.
• Limit time in restricted spaces. Wondering how to help baby learn to roll over as you go about your busy daily routine? During the day, help baby roll over by limiting the time they spend in anything that hinders movement, such as bouncers, swings, car seats (unless you’re driving!) and activity centers. “These days there are a million gadgets for babies to be in, and they could easily spend a whole day going from one to the other,” Blanchard says. “But you want kids to be in the position that is natural for them to develop the muscles they need to move forward.”
Blanchard adds that physical therapists have a diagnosis for babies who don’t get enough opportunities to move: container baby syndrome. Babies should never sleep in swings, bouncers or car seats, Blanchard says, because of the risk of positional asphyxia, which happens when someone’s position restricts their breathing and causes them to suffocate.
Since newborns can sometimes roll over unexpectedly, Blanchard cautions that the only safe place to leave baby unattended is a crib, playard, bassinet or another place where they can be securely strapped in, such as a swing or bouncer. “Early on, baby is untrustworthy—you don’t want to be on the phone with your doctor at 2 a.m. because baby rolled off the bed or the changing table,” Blanchard says.
Once baby is intentionally rolling, it’s important to keep their space clear of anything that could get in baby’s way and potentially obstruct their breathing or pose a choking hazard. “Some babies roll crazy fast and can rake objects with their hands—so a 6-month-old getting hold of something tiny, like a raisin, and bringing it to their face is definitely a possibility,” Blanchard says. Don’t wait until baby is crawling to babyproof your house.
Regardless of the age babies roll over, whenever they start, it’s a signal to stop swaddling them during sleep. If your little one tries to roll over with their arms swaddled in, they may get stuck mid-roll or find themselves face-down and unable to roll back, putting them in an unsafe position. Try transitioning to a sleep sack with arm holes, which will allow baby to safely move around more freely.
Although there’s a wide acceptable age range for when babies roll over, Blanchard says at the 6-month well visit, she’s looking for babies to be close to rolling either from back to front or stomach to back. If baby is not rolling over at 6 months, or similarly, if baby has stopped rolling over, consider a trip to the doctor. “Babies might not roll over right at 6 months, but if you aren’t seeing any attempts at movement, definitely discuss it with your pediatrician,” she says. “If your doctor thinks there may be a developmental delay, you’ll be able to work together to figure out what the next steps should be, like physical therapy.”
About the Experts:
Deena Blanchard, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics in New York City. She earned her medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2006 and completed her residency training at Columbia University. She also earned a Master’s of Public Health from Temple University in 2002.
Dina DiMaggio, MD, is a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates of NYC and at NYU Langone Medical Center, and serves as a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Cheryl Wu, MD, is a pediatrician at Amaranth Pediatrics in New York City. She earned her medical degree from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and completed her pediatric residency training at St Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, PA.
Dan Rindler is the director of Child’Space NYC, a program that teaches movement techniques to support infant development. He is also a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner (GCFP) and Child’Space NYC method trainer.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
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