Over the course of the first year of life, your baby will cycle through many developmental milestones. Infants go through dramatic periods of growth and development during the first twelve months of life. The amazing, drastic changes in your baby’s physical development are exciting for parents to witness. After gaining head and neck control, your baby might accomplish one of his first milestones: rolling.
When assessing your baby’s development, be aware that the path to mastering skills is unique and based on a number of factors such as body type, your child’s health, and whether your little one was born prematurely. Developmental milestones happen during a range of weeks (or months), not a specific age.
There is no known correlation between early mastery of skills and physical ability later in life, so don’t be concerned if your baby accomplishes a task much sooner or later than other babies. Most babies start to roll sometime between four and seven months. As your baby grows and gains both physical strength and a greater sense of curiosity about the world around her, rolling may begin to occur more often!
According to the CDC, your baby should be able to roll over in at least one direction by six months of age. Although rolling seems like such a simple skill to master, it actually requires a lot of neck, arm, and leg muscle strength! This seemingly easy motor skill requires hundreds of different muscles in your baby’s body to coordinate and work together to complete the motion of rolling.
Baby development: a timeline for rolling
Rolling onto side: Many babies can roll onto their side between 4 and 5 months.
Rolling from belly to back: Most babies can roll from their belly onto their back between 4 and 6 months.
Rolling from back to belly: Most babies can roll from their back onto their belly between 5 and 7 months.
Rolling belly-to-back is easier for many babies to master than rolling back-to-belly, but development doesn’t necessarily have to follow this pattern. Your baby might not be able to roll until a later age, so be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician with any concerns about a lag in physical milestones.
How can I encourage my baby to roll over?
If your baby is practicing rolling onto his side:
In order to roll to the side, your baby might need some encouragement! Grab an enticing toy or book and place it next to your baby, within his line of sight. You can even lie down on the floor next to your baby – infants love looking at human faces! If your baby is between three and four months old, he should be able to easily move his head from side to side, but he might have difficulty moving the rest of his body. Gently guide your baby’s arms and legs to the side facing the special object.
A toy that lights up or makes noise can be exciting to a young baby, so pick something that interests your little one. Make sure your baby’s eyes follow the object while you help guide the rest of his body to his side. Talk to your baby and give him exciting sounds to listen to, and he’ll be more likely to roll in that direction.
If your baby is practicing rolling onto his back:
Tummy time is key to learning to roll belly-to-back and back-to-belly. If your baby isn’t particularly thrilled with being on her belly, don’t fret. Many babies become distressed when placed on their bellies for too long! Start with short periods of time, and don’t rely on familiar objects and toys. Pick new, interesting items to capture your baby’s attention during tummy time.
Watch for signs that your baby is ready to practice rolling onto her back. Your little one might start pushing up on her hands and arms or reaching for an object within her line of sight. You might even consider purchasing a tummy time pillow made to help prop up your baby’s chest and underarms. Once you find an object to grab your baby’s attention, help guide her body over onto her back.
Your child will need adequate strength in her arms and legs to be able to roll. Infants need to engage in activities that help develop her muscles.
New, engaging sounds for your baby to hear can also encourage her to roll in a certain direction. Play some music on your phone, use a baby rattle, or simply talk or sing to your baby while she plays on the floor, and watch her move her head and body toward the interesting sounds!
If your baby is practicing rolling onto his belly:
When babies are almost ready to begin rolling from back to belly, you might notice her tucking her chin to her chest and kicking her legs to the side or pulling them in toward her body. You might also notice your baby begin rolling to her side during nighttime sleep.
If you observe your baby becoming curious about rolling to her belly, place an exciting toy just outside of her reach on her side. Most babies reach for objects that are within their line of vision. Watch as your baby rolls to her side, and then support her legs and back as she inches toward the toy. You might practice supporting her in this motion a few times before she is able to accomplish it on her own! Most children can complete rolling both directions around six or seven months of age.
What if my baby isn’t rolling by 6 months?
Health professionals can best assess children’s development.
If your baby is six months or older (and was born on or near their due date) and still isn’t rolling, it might be time to talk to the family physician. Your child’s pediatrician will be able to give you the best assessment of your baby’s growth and development. The ability to roll can take months to master, and depends on a variety of factors such as birth weight, your baby’s overall health, whether he was born early or late term, and overall muscle strength.
Tummy time is also a monumental factor in mastering the ability to roll. If your little one screams and cries during tummy time, she probably isn’t getting enough time on her belly to build up that core muscle strength required for rolling.
Your baby might also surprise you and roll over one day but not the next. Babies don’t develop along the same timelines. Infants tend to focus on one skill at a time, so maybe your baby has become distracted by another milestone such as reaching, kicking, babbling, or grasping.
Parenting books can be helpful to read during pregnancy and postpartum so that parents can know what to expect, but it is important to acknowledge that every baby is unique. Even if your little one doesn’t seem to master skills that other babies of similar ages do, your baby might still be developing perfectly. Family physicians or pediatricians can help parents understand if their child is growing properly and if they display any warning signs for potential health problems and development concerns.
When it comes to rolling, tummy time is vital.
Research on preventing SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) means babies are spending a lot more time on their backs than on their bellies – but tummy time is important for development!
Even as soon as during pregnancy, moms-to-be are told that babies need to sleep on their backs in order to avoid potential injury and death. Recent research shows that the risk of SIDS goes down significantly when a baby is put on his back to sleep. However, this might impact how soon a baby reaches certain milestones, especially when it comes to tummy time strength and the ability to roll over.
Despite being safer on their backs, once your baby can roll over, it is safe to let him sleep on his belly. A newborn should always be placed on his back to sleep, but parents don’t need to worry about their little one suffocating once he is strong enough to roll. Keep the sleep space safe (no blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, bumpers, or other loose objects) and the mattress should be firm and designed for infants.
You can encourage your baby’s development of core muscle strength during tummy time by sitting on the floor and playing with your baby. Newborns are naturally curious about the outside world, so play upon that curiosity by introducing new sights and sounds to your baby. If your baby particularly despises tummy time, you might consider keeping a basket of special toys and pillows aside just for use during tummy time.
Pick a toy that lights up to give your baby something fun to stare at, or a toy that makes a sound to give your baby something interesting to hear. The more you’re able to capture your baby’s attention, the less she’ll focus on being concerned about her position. You can also purchase special tummy time pillows made to support your baby’s chest and shoulders during tummy time.
Be sure to space out tummy time from each feeding session to reduce the chances of your baby spitting up when she’s on her belly. It is normal and healthy for a baby to become frustrated and tired easily during the early days of tummy time, but soon enough she’ll be strong enough to hold up her head and neck when you place her on the floor!
Rolling over might temporarily impact your baby’s sleep.
Although sleep disruptions can be exhausting, keep your baby’s sleep environment safe and her routine consistent.
As your baby masters new skills, it is common for sleep to be disrupted. Since your newborn should be used to sleeping on his back, it can be disconcerting for a baby to roll in his sleep and wake up on his belly. If your baby enjoys sleeping on his belly, he might become distressed if he accidentally rolls to his back during sleep. When a baby accomplishes a milestone like rolling, it is normal for his sleep to temporarily take a nosedive. This can be frustrating and exhausting for parents, but thankfully, the sleep disruptions are usually short-lived.
It is important for parents to note that once their infant shows signs of rolling, it is no longer safe to swaddle the baby at night. Swaddling can prevent your little one from being able to use his arms to move into a safe sleeping position. You can transition your child to a sleep sack, or just dress your child in warm pajamas and put him in an empty crib.
Keep your baby’s sleep space free from loose pillows, blankets, toys, and crib bumpers!
Keep up to date with pediatric well child visits to make sure your baby’s development is on track.
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends at least eight well checks during the first year.
Your child’s pediatrician will want to see your baby periodically over the course of the first year of life to check on your little one’s growth and development. There can be many factors that influence the way a baby will gain strength and develop. The best thing you can do to set your infant up for success when it comes to meeting milestones is to keep up to date with pediatric well-child visits.
If your little one is developing on track, chances are he’ll be rolling before you know it – and you’ll have a little one on the move!
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.