“When do babies start rolling over?” is a question many parents start to ask themselves in the months following the birth of their little one. Turning over is one of the first baby development milestones, so it's understandable that we're so keen to see it happen. While child development stages are different for all, babies start rolling over usually between the ages of four and six months. However, it is possible for some little ones to start rolling over earlier than this and others may be later. One of the best ways to help your baby to start rolling over is to do lots of tummy time with them.
Alison Featherbe, an early years consultant and trainer, explains: “Rolling over is a big moment. It’s the start of your baby moving about on their own. Rolling is a crucial stage towards crawling and getting around.”
One of the key things the NHS advises in order to support your baby’s development at this age is tummy time. This is when you allow your baby to spend short periods of time throughout the day lying on their stomach.
Here’s more information from child development experts and researchers to answer that all-important question, when do babies start rolling over?
When do babies start rolling over?
Babies generally start rolling over between the age of four and six months. However, some will roll earlier at three months and others can take up to seven months. Usually babies will roll from their front to their back first, as a result of their tummy time practice. It can then take a while longer before your little one learns to roll from their back to their front.
Something to be aware of with all baby milestones is that little ones develop at their own speed. So if it takes a while for your baby to start rolling, don't panic.
According to the NHS, babies start rolling over between the ages of three and seven months. Research has also shown that babies regularly having tummy time is beneficial for their development. This prone positioning helps to strengthen your little one’s muscles, as they begin to push themselves up.
If your little one was born premature it is also worth remembering that they may hit their milestones at different times.
Parent consultant Kirsty Ketley, a qualified early years expert and the co-founder of Parenthood App, says: “For premature babies always go by their adjusted age, rather than their actual age, and speak with their pediatrician if you have any concerns.”
What to do if baby doesn’t roll over
It’s important to remember that all babies do things at their own speed. So don’t be too concerned if your friends’ babies are rolling and your little one isn’t yet. However, most babies should be starting to try to roll by around the age of six months. So if your baby doesn’t roll over yet and you are concerned about their development, contact your GP or health visitor.
Rachel, who is mum to eight-month-old Molly, says: "My daughter was the last one in my NCT group to roll over and I remember being so worried about it. But, of course, she got there in the end and then I wondered why I'd been so concerned! It's like my mum always tells me: 'They're not going to start school not being able to roll over', so don't worry, it will happen."
However, if you are concerned that your baby is not making any attempts to move, it is worth speaking to a health professional.
Alison says: “Babies might not roll over by seven months. However, if you aren’t seeing any attempt at movement, exploration or increasing control of their head, legs and arms, then definitely discuss this with your health visitor or doctor. They then may refer you to a paediatrician.”
How to help a baby learn to roll over
- Give your baby lots of floor time
- Make sure your little one is comfortable on something like a play mat or blanket
- Encourage daily tummy time
- Keep your little one interested and stimulated with toys and singing
The best way to help a baby learn to roll over is to give them lots of independent floor time. Lying on a play mat or blanket on the floor will give your little one time to explore what their body can do and to begin to start trying new movements.
Alison says: “Very young babies need to develop the ability to hold up their head, so give them time to kick and stretch freely on their backs in a safe and nurturing space.
“You can do many things to help your baby gradually learn how to start rolling. Provide them with sounds and sensory toys and encourage turning their head towards the stimulation. Time on their backs on the floor will help them to make movements with their arms and legs. These will gradually become more controlled and give them the strength to roll over.”
Tummy time is also great for strengthening the muscles needed for rolling. This is where you lay your baby on their stomach for short periods at a time.
You can start tummy time from birth by laying down and placing your little one on your chest. However, only do this when you are not tired yourself and there is no danger of your falling asleep with them. As they get bigger you can also lay them on their stomach over your lap, or carry them across your arm.
Once your baby becomes a bit more in control of their movements you can encourage daily tummy time on a play mat or blanket. This position will allow them to begin to push themselves upright. Placing toys nearby will also help to keep their interest and encourage movement.
As it is something new, some babies may not instantly take to tummy time. So be prepared to experience a little crying to start off with. If this is the case, start off with very short time periods on a mat or blanket and try to build it into your daily routine.
When starting out with tummy time, make sure to keep a hand on your baby's back or lie facing them. This is so that they are aware of where you are. If you stay sitting up and they can't see you they will, understandably, become upset.
Researchers in America also found that when parents interacted with their babies during tummy time it led to reduced negative vocalisations from the baby and an increase in head elevation for the majority of children.
Jenny, who has a six-month-old daughter, Sky, says: "Sky hated tummy time in the beginning and used to cry whenever we laid her on her front. So I used to lay down next to her and show her a little book she loved.
"We built up the time she spent on her tummy very slowly. Once her arms and neck became stronger, she started to love pushing herself up. Then we started leaving her for longer periods of time. "
Babies naturally want to explore and move, so the more support you can give your little one to do that, the better.
Alison explains: “Babies are spending more time than ever in restrictive devices like car seats, bouncy seats and carriers. All these containers restrict and inhibit babies from doing what they are naturally inclined to do.
“Give them time on a blanket on the floor to move, turn their heads, twist, stretch, roll and eventually crawl.”
What is the earliest age a baby can roll over?
The earliest age at which a baby can roll over is usually around three months. This is because they need to have developed the correct muscles in order to do so. However, occasionally babies can roll earlier than this. So you should always ensure that they are supervised when on high surfaces such as a bed or a changing table.
Alison says: “Some babies can start rolling as early as three to four months, with most rolling by seven months. However, it is an outdated view that children develop linearly and within specified ages and stages.”
Interestingly, researchers have found that infant rolling abilities and timings have not been altered by the introduction of the advice to sleep babies on their back in the 90s.
Something to note is that while your baby’s first roll can feel exciting for you, it may take them by surprise and they may cry. Most babies will also get upset when they roll and cannot turn back again. It can be a bit frustrating for them, but lots of physical activity time will help them to get the hang of it.
Sam, who is mum to seven-month-old Harry, says: "The first time Harry rolled over he was so shocked he burst into tears. Meanwhile me and my husband were cheering for him, so we felt really bad. But once he'd figured out he could roll, it became his new party trick and he used to do it all the time and give us a massive grin!"
What to do if baby rolls over in their sleep
As babies become more confident at rolling they will sometimes roll over in their sleep. Although this can be alarming for parents, once your baby can roll confidently, they can be left to sleep however they feel most comfortable.
Most parents are now aware of the Back to Sleep advice from the Lullaby Trust charity. The organisation aims to reduce the risks of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and advises babies should sleep on their backs to reduce that risk.
However, the organisation says: “Once your baby can roll from back to front and back again, on their own, they can be left to find their own position to sleep.”
Kirsty agrees: “It can be frustrating if your baby rolls onto their front in their sleep, and you may have some disturbed nights until they can roll back over.
“However, it won't take long for them to be turning back onto their back though, and here's some things to consider to help minimise the risk of SIDS:
- Keep their cot clear of cot bumpers, lose blankets, toys etc
- ALWAYS put your baby to sleep on their back, even if they quickly turn onto their front
- Use sleeping bags, rather than swaddles or blankets tucked in”
This Australian study into tummy time also found that starting tummy time earlier and frequently was associated with more favourable sleep of babies at 12 and 24 months.
What are the signs of rolling over?
Babies will often begin by kicking and wriggling as they start to explore what their body can do. Their first roll may come about as a result of this and can often surprise both you and them! It is therefore important that you do not leave your baby unattended on a bed or changing table.
What milestones are next after rolling over?
Rolling over is an exciting milestone for your little one. Once they’ve mastered this it won’t be long before they start to work towards other milestones such as sitting up and crawling.
What is tummy time?
Tummy time helps your baby to develop their motor skills and muscles and encourages them to roll over. You can begin gentle tummy time from birth by laying your baby on your chest. As they get bigger you can allow them to lie on their stomachs on the floor for short periods of time.
Alison explains: “Tummy time strengthens the muscles babies need for sitting and crawling. “Lying on their tummies also gives babies a different view of the world as they begin to learn from the world around them.”
How long should you do tummy time for?
When considering how long to do tummy time for, take into account your baby's age and response to it. To begin with babies should only spend a small amount of time on their stomachs. As they get older they will become more comfortable and you can allow them to spend more time in this position. You should always supervise your baby during tummy time.
Which way do babies roll over first?
Most babies will roll from their front to their backs first. However, this can sometimes happen the other way around, especially if your little one enjoys lying on their side.
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Emily-Ann Elliott is an experienced online and print journalist, with a focus on health, travel, and parenting. After beginning her career as a health journalist at The Basingstoke Gazette, she worked at a number of regional newspapers before moving to BBC News online. She later worked as a journalist for Comic Relief, covering stories about health and international development, as well as The Independent, The i, The Guardian, and The Telegraph. Following the birth of her son with neonatal meningitis, Emily-Ann has a particular interest in neonatal health and parental support. Emily-Ann has a degree in English literature from the University of Newcastle and has NCTJ and NCE qualifications in newspaper journalism.
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