Just as you think you are beginning to find your rhythm with sleep, your little angel surprises you with a new twist – they learn to roll over.

Typically, this exciting (and slightly nerve-wracking) milestone occurs between three to six months of age. It’s a moment of parental pride, watching them squirm and wriggle until – voila! – they’ve flipped onto their tummy. However, this newly discovered talent can be a bit of a party popper in Slumberland, often leading to nights punctuated by crying bouts as baby wakes up in an unfamiliar position. This is exactly how parenting is though, you think you have the parenting gig all figured and then, bam! a new skill is learned.

When it comes to learning to rollover, this can be especially disruptive to a child’s sleep because while they have learned to roll over, they have yet to figure out how to get themselves back or even how to comfortably and confidently be on their tummy. As a pediatric sleep consultant, I see this often. So, if your little one has just started to do this or if you know this is coming down the road, continue to read to learn how to navigate this new territory with confidence.

The act of rolling over is an important developmental milestone signifying that your baby’s growth is well on track.

This feat of mini athleticism is an initial indication of their increasing strength and coordination. Mastering the roll from back to front and vice versa requires a combination of gross motor skills, such as head control and arm strength, and fine motor skills like grasping. The whole process of rolling over also introduces babies to the concept of mobility and independence, setting the stage for other significant movements in the future like crawling, sitting up, and eventually walking. Doing this during wake time is all fine but when they rollover during nap time or nighttime, this can cause a huge disruption to their sleep. Often, they wake up crying and unsure how they got themselves on their tummy and most do not have the coordination to get themselves turned back over. 

So, what do you do?

If they roll over while napping and wake up, I recommend first going into their room quietly and rolling them back over and leaving quickly. If this is towards the end of their typical nap length then you could alternatively get them up from their nap. If this is towards the beginning, you may need to offer a little more support in terms of shushing or patting. But remember to keep the interaction quiet and to a minimum. Our goal is for them to fall back to sleep to continue their nap.

Just rolling them back over isn’t enough to help teach them to do this independently. They also need to be confident with being on their tummy. During waking hours, you need to offer lots of tummy time and opportunities to practice rolling from front to back. Often this takes a bit of guidance from you and I have the perfect exercise to help with this!

Teaching Your Baby to Rollover Quickly:

The first step in teaching your little one to roll over is to place them on a blanket, on their back, approximately 6-8 inches from the edge. Lift the edge of the blanket with your hands, gently guiding them over onto their stomach. When you are ready to flip baby from front to back, again, gently lift the blanket on one side until baby begins to flip over onto their back. In the beginning, you will be doing most of the flipping but as baby begins to learn the skill and gain coordination, you will just lift the blanket enough to begin the turning over and allow them to use their strength and coordination to make the turn the rest of the way. You want to do this exercise 3-4 times per day, with approximately 5-10 rotations per session. The more practice that you give your baby, the faster your baby will learn to be on their stomach confidently and enjoy being in this position.

 Once your baby is comfortable with being on their stomach for sleep, they will happily sleep on their tummy rather than waking up surprised to find themselves in that position.  This means more sleep for them and YOU!

Things to keep in mind:

Once your baby has begun rolling over, using swaddles or a sleep sack that has the arms restricted is no longer a safe option for baby. They must have their arms and hands are free to move around for them to flip back on their own. This also includes sleep sacks like the Magic Merlin suit. ( Review the latest American Academy of Pediatrics Safe Sleep Guidelines.)

In conclusion, rolling over is a significant milestone for your baby, paving the way for more exciting discoveries and developments. However, with this comes the newfound ability to disrupt their sleep and in turn, yours! If you find yourself in this situation, give them lots of practice with rolling over and soon, your little one will master this skill and you’ll both enjoy peaceful nights once again.