When do babies roll over?
At what age will your baby start to roll over on their own? Will they roll from front to back first? Or from back to front? And what if they roll onto their front in their sleep? Our expert GP explains what to expect when
Rolling over is one of the first developmental milestones – your baby is learning how to get somewhere they want to be! There is a wide window of a few months in which babies learn this skill: one baby may roll over for the first time at 3 months and another do it at 6 months – but both babies are hitting that milestone within the normal range.
I know, at this age, a couple of months can feel like quite a difference but please don't compare your baby with others.
At what age will my baby roll over for the first time?
Your baby can't learn to roll over until they lose one of the early reflexes they were born with. This particular reflex is called the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR).
The ATNR reflex kicks in when a tiny baby turns their neck to one side: when they do this, the reflex makes the arm and the leg on that side also stretch out towards the side they are facing, and their other side will bend inwards. It sort of looks like your baby is fencing: holding their arm out in an "en garde" pose. It's thought this reflex, which develops in the womb, helps with the rotational, turning movements that occur during labour and birth. It also helps to develop muscle strength and tone, and may even be the start of hand eye co-ordination – they are turning, perhaps to look at something and at the same time their limbs move.
Your baby will not be able to turn over until this reflex is lost, which is a process that happens naturally and at some point between the age of 3 and 6 months.
So, the first time your baby rolls over could be as early as 3 months or as late as 6 months.
When will my baby start to roll from stomach to back?
Babies typically start rolling from tummy to back first (which is easier), then the learn to roll from back to tummy (a little harder to master).
As we've seen above, your baby will need to lose their ATNR reflex first – and usually this has happened by the time your baby is 6 months old and can happen as early as 3 months. So, your baby may start to roll from stomach to back at any point within this time period.
You will probably first see your baby starting to rock from side to side, as the foundation motion for rolling. But it's hard to predict when your baby will flip over from front to back – so please don't leave your baby unattended on a high changing station or bed at this age, in case they suddenly roll over and fall off.
When your baby does roll for the first time, it may not just be you that's taken by surprise: often babies can be a little shocked by what they have just done and, if a parent or carer makes a loud exclamation of excitement, that can shock and startle them, too. Over the years, many parents have told me that baby startled or even started crying at their parental yelp of joy at seeing the first roll – and it's also something I've experienced myself!
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When will my baby start to roll from back to stomach?
If your baby have already mastered rolling from stomach to back, it won't be long – maybe 2 to 4 weeks – before they can roll the other way, too.
But not all babies start rolling from stomach to back; some will learn how to roll from back to front first.
Either way, once you have mastered one the other is likely to occur pretty soon after – and, generally, all within that time frame of 3 to 6 months.
How can I encourage my baby to roll over?
Placing your baby on their front every day for a spell of 'tummy time' will help them develop the muscles in their core – both in their stomach and back – so that they develop the strength required to roll over.
Parents often say that their baby doesn't like tummy time at first, so start with little and often, and get down there with them to play with them at the same time.
When your baby is on their tummy, encourage them to reach for toys. You could try rattling a toy just to 1 side to make them turn their head and then reach towards it.
You can also try giving your baby a head start with a roll – gently moving them to one side and seeing if they can finish the job. And don't forget lots of praise and smiling faces along the way!
At what age should I worry that my baby isn't rolling over?
If your baby hasn't started to roll by the time they are 6 months old, then it might be worth seeing your GP. Remember that this is only one part of their development, so it may not mean anything serious at all.
Your doctor will ask lots of questions, such as if they are holding up their head – and more.
What if my baby rolls over in their sleep?
Good news! You don't have to turn them back over.
The current advice is to always put your baby down on their back when putting them down to sleep. But once they start to turn over by themselves in the night, safe-sleep experts agree there's no need to turn them back again.
As always, do make sure that there is nothing in their cot or crib that they could get tangled up in and, if you're not using baby sleeping bags, always tuck those blankets nice and tight.
Pic: Getty Images
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