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Baby Rolling Over in Sleep: When to Expect It & What To Do

Your baby learning to roll can be an exciting, but stressful time for many parents because sleep practices need to change, especially if your little one is still swaddled!

baby rolling in sleep

Rolling is a big milestone that is typically mastered between 2-5 months. It also brings along a lot of questions for new parents, especially when wondering how rolling will effect sleep!

When should rolling begin?

When do I stop swaddling?

Are they safe now to sleep on their tummy?

What do I do if they roll to their tummy at night and get mad?

How can I help if they seem frustrated?

Let’s first start with a strong foundation of when we can expect rolling to happen (for a full list of when to expect motor milestones, download The Movement Mama's 0-24 Months Motor Milestones Checklist!

Rolling Milestones

So now you know when rolling milestones occur, let's help you understand HOW to encourage your baby to roll!

Some of my favorite play positions or routines that nurture rolling are:

Find in-depth guidance on each of these developmental play positions + so much more in The Movement Mama's Rolling on Track course!

The truth be told, every tiny step along the way is crucial to building on one another to accomplish the next skill. So tummy time, sidelying, and playing on their back are all cross-training, if you will, for rolling. We want to prioritize these developmental play positions during the day to help decrease the amount of time your baby spends practicing these skills at night, which often causes frequent wake-ups and frustrations for everyone.

FAQs: Rolling & Sleep:

Q: My baby just began to roll. When do I need to stop swaddling?

A: Moving out of the swaddle is one of the biggest transitions you will make with your baby. Not only is it vital for safety when they begin to roll, but it also allows them access to their hands which is a great way to independently self-soothe during the night. There are a variety of methods you can use to drop the swaddle; however, if your baby is rolling you will need to move cold turkey into a sleep sack unless sleep times are 100% supervised. Serenity Sleepers recommends using the Zippadee- zip or Love to Dream 50/50 as great transitional swaddles, or moving directly into a Tealbee or Kyte Baby sleep sack.

Q: What do I do if my baby is rolling to their tummy in their sleep & can't roll to their back?

A: From a motor perspective, the biggest piece of advice I have is consistent, unrestricted movement during waking hours and routine-based practice of everything you've learned here in regards to rolling tummy to back. This is a very common phase babies go through and the more you are allowing them to explore rolling when they're awake, the faster they will get through it. Remember, it isn't just about tummy time though! Playing on their back and sidelying is crucial as well. One of my biggest tricks to progressing toward independent rolling is to roll them into & out of tummy time, giving less and less assistance as they get stronger!

From a sleep perspective, we want to give your baby the space to roll over in the crib and not intervene immediately. It is common to see a few nights of disrupted sleep when your baby first learns to roll over as their brains need a lot of practice to master this new skill, which means they need to continuously have the opportunity! If your baby is upset and crying upon rolling over, offer brief reassurance with shushing or patting to help calm them down; however, if your baby is unable to roll to their back, you can offer some assistance but make sure they are doing the majority of the work, otherwise their brains won't register the movement, which is needed for mastery. Offering minimal assistance will also help them learn to do it themselves in their sleep much faster. One important takeaway, you should ALWAYS continue to play your baby on their back to sleep, as recommended by the AAP for evidenced-based, safe infant sleep.

baby stuck on tummy and can't roll

Q: What do I do if my baby is getting frustrated and flailing their arms and legs in tummy time when trying to roll over?

A: Around 4 months, many babies exhibit a “swimming” behavior, known as the Landau reflex. This is normal and helps prepare baby for higher level motor skills like crawling. Use touchy feely books to entice them to keep their hands down. Check out this post for another example!

Q: What are some of the best toys for motivating baby to roll?

A: Click on the image below for the blog post with all of the links

toys to promote rolling

Rolling is just the beginning of your little one learning how to use their bodies and eventually explore their environment. Though it can get frustrating if your baby is waking up in the night due to rolling in their sleep, it's important to remember two things: their disrupted sleep is temporary and we can help mastery of rolling skills by practicing during wake times!

Key Takeaways:

  • When your baby first starts rolling, they're likely going to practice their new skill at night so give them lots of opportunities during wake times to practice unrestricted, i.e. lots of time on the floor vs in baby equipment

  • Tummy time, sidelying, back play, pivoting, and rolling are all important as they build upon one another for the next skill

  • If your baby has started showing signs of rolling it's time to drop the swaddle

  • Don’t panic - it's perfectly safe for a baby to tummy sleep if they're capable of rolling independently. Continue to place your baby on their back for all sleep times

  • Practice rolling motions, i.e. rocking side to side, to get them used to the feeling of rolling

Serenity Sleepers integrates child development, parental health, and normative childhood sleep patterns at the center of our sleep philosophy. We customize every sleep plan to get your family sleeping peacefully again with practical, shame-free, and evidenced-based sleep solutions! Schedule your free discovery call to learn how we can help your family sleep peacefully.

motor milestones, doctor of physical therapy

Kailee Noland is a Doctor of Pediatric Physical Therapy + Mama of 2 babies earthside and 2 in heaven. She is passionate about empowering parents with the knowledge and real-life solutions to gently nurture their baby's motor milestones.

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