Rolling 101

Newborns lead a pretty cushy life once they arrive home. But it’s not too long before your pediatrician tasks them with homework, their first important developmental skill: rolling.

Here’s the quick facts to know.

What is Rolling Over?

Rolling over is the developmental skill of flipping the entire body from one position (back or belly) to the other. It is the first major motor milestone and as parents, we are ecstatic when they do it for the first time.

However, before you can confidently say “My baby can roll”, your newborn should be able to:

  • Roll onto their shoulders or side from their back
  • Lift their head and upper body while on their tummy
  • Kick their legs up or scoot around in a circle while on their back
  • Move hips from side to side or using legs to lift their hips up
  • Reach for objects nearby
  • Do it consistently AND with intention

Some parents may witness their newborn “roll” and assume that their child is super advanced. More than likely, that is not the case. Movements at 1-2 months are not controlled and rolling is merely accidental or by reflex.

Developing the ability to roll in either/both directions will be a gradual process, a whole-body experience requiring the engagement and refinement of different muscles, reflexes, and sensory systems.

When does it start?

The truth is that there is no set time frame of when this happens. This is partly because the concept of rolling has many accepted definitions. Some will say their baby hit their rolling milestone when they flipped from belly to back (or vice versa), even though they weren’t able to roll the other way until later. 

Factors such as your baby’s weight, how much tummy time they receive, muscle development and motor skills all contribute to when they roll over.

On average, a baby will typically accomplish rolling over from their belly to back around 3-4 months of age. As they become stronger and more coordinated, they should attain this skill in both directions between 5-7 months.

Why is it so important?

Rolling is your baby’s first of many independent and purposeful movements. It is the start of many milestone achievements, and it serves as a way for them to refine and cultivate other skills, such as:

  • Balance, coordination, and overall muscle strength needed for future motor skills (sitting or crawling)
  • Functional mobility to explore their environment
  • Body awareness of where their head and limbs are in relation to their surroundings  
  • Motor planning required to interact with nearby objects
  • Speech and language development as they become familiar with objects/people of interest and displaying wants/needs through movement

Rolling opens a window of opportunity for your baby to explore and engage with their surroundings on their own (with supervision), introducing them to different sensory experiences as well as the ability to discover and investigate objects.

Should I be worried if they fall asleep on their stomach?

Although it is advised to put your baby on their back for bedtime during their first year of life to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), it is okay if they can independently roll onto their tummy and fall asleep.

If they are able to roll in both directions easily, their risk for SIDS drops dramatically because they have enough strength to shift their body should their breathing be obstructed. But if you’re really concerned about your little one sleeping on their belly, try placing them on their back or side with one arm extended to prevent them from doing so.

How can I help my baby learn to roll?

  • TUMMY TIME. We can’t stress this enough.
    Tummy Time helps strengthen the neck, back, and arm muscles needed to push and roll over from belly to back, building the foundations needed to roll. Read our Tummy Time post for more.

  • Activity gyms. Designed for your baby to reach and kick objects overhead, these help your baby build and strengthen their core and flexor muscles to flip from back to tummy.

  • Gentle manual guidance. Try rocking them from side to side while their propped up on their arms and then onto their back, or gently guiding at their hip and arm to roll from their back to belly so they become acquainted with how it feels.
    This creates a blueprint for motor planning, giving input on what body parts should move, how they should move, and what timing to execute rolling.
  • Visual demonstration. Watching you roll activates your infant’s mirror neurons in the brain to imitate what you’re doing. It also gives you a chance to interact, play, and bond with your baby.

  • Provide as many opportunities as possible for them to practice on the floor. By letting them figure out how to roll on their own through trial and error, our babies become stronger, stable, and more confident in their movements. Encourage and cheer them on!

When should I be concerned?

Babies are their own beings and will hit milestones, like rolling, on their own time (not ours). It takes a lot of effort to gain the strength needed to fight against gravity, let alone coordinate their movements to master their first motor milestone.

However, if your baby hasn’t rolled over in either direction or made attempts to sit independently by 7 months, consult your pediatrician who may refer you to a Physical Therapist.


Related Posts:
Defying Gravity: Tummy Time
The Proprioception System – On My Own Two Feet
The Vestibular System: A Tale of Two Movements
Child(ish) Q&A: When will my kid be fun?

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