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How To Teach Baby To Roll Over

Rolling is one of a baby's most important motor milestones because they are becoming mobile! It’s important for developing postural control, which is crucial for the development of fine motor skills like handwriting. It also engages a portion of the brain that makes the left and right parts of the body "talk" and coordinate with one another (important for reading, writing and other higher-level motor skills).  

When teaching a baby to roll over, many parents are surprised when their baby can't roll over at 6 months, but few know that it's actually normal for babies not to have this milestone at that age. 

Tips On How To Help Baby Roll Over

Although most babies will eventually learn how to roll toward the end of the first year, some babies roll right away, while others wait. Babies tend to roll from tummy back to side between 2-5 months, back and side between 4-5.5 months, and back and tummy between 5.5-7.5 months. Their bodies prepare to roll long before they actually roll. 

And guess what? You get to participate in that preparation!  

Rolling Motion 

Settle down on the floor somewhere, pick up the baby and move his/her weight in a rolling motion from side to side. This is a very easy task to integrate into your daily life. It can be done with every diaper change or sleep session, which can mean that a newborn can go through this 20 times per day. This is a lot of practice! 

So, this is how it works: 

Place your baby on his/her stomach and then roll him to the side while placing him down. Your baby’s reflex will be to prevent their head from slipping out of alignment with their body. This is a natural reflex that babies are born with. It also strengthens the muscles along the neck. They can also practice pushing against the ground with their arms on the way down. When it is time to pick up the baby, simply reverse the motion. You should practice rolling your baby on both sides all day so they can get a feel of moving in various directions. 

Learning How To Balance 

Reduce the time you have your baby spend in their baby equipment, such as baby swings, bouncer chairs, play saucers/jumpers, and even car seats. Swings, bouncer chairs and car seats are great places to help babies relax. However, these "seats" give the body very little practice at learning how to balance itself in space.

Why? Because in all of these seats, gravity isn't working against the baby's body. They are not challenged to try and push themselves up. 

Babies learn motor skills only through trial and error. We’re not saying that baby equipment isn't useful for fussy babies or busy caregivers, but you need to be cognizant of how much time your baby is spending in them. No one wants their babies to spend their entire waking hours (and sleep) in spaces that prevent them from developing new motor skills. 

Plenty of Tummy Time 

Your baby should be allowed to have plenty of tummy time throughout the day. A baby's neck and back muscles are strengthened by time spent on their stomachs. This helps them to arch against gravity and eventually roll. Your baby's head should be lifted off the ground by 2 months. They should also hold their chest off of the floor between 2-4 months. 

Being on the belly is actually a great way to build strength and stability in a baby's back. How? Because babies need to use every muscle along their backs as they reach up for something, pull themselves up, or push down to lift themselves off of the ground. 

When your baby can sit comfortably on his/her stomach and push his/her chest up off the ground, you might notice him begin to roll. Although it may take a while before your baby falls over, the fact that your baby is practicing shifting his/her weight is huge! This weight shifting is crucial for babies who struggle to learn how to roll. 

Rounded Positions 

Allow your baby to lie on their back and help them maneuver through "rounded" positions. As your baby lies on their back, turn the arm closest to you up toward the ceiling. Then lift that leg. How does your baby feel? If your baby can move into a new position this might help them roll over later on! This is actually one of my favorite "exercises" for babies. 

As babies grow and develop motor skills, we want them to be able to balance their extension (the "arching" position they learned in tummy time) and flexion ("tucked") positions. We don't want either position to dominate the other. It is simple to get a round position because most babies like to lie on their backs. 

Practice Laying On Side 

Have your baby play on his/her back. To encourage your baby to lie sideways, you can use toys, books, mirrors, and even your face. When your baby is younger, he/she may need assistance staying on his/her sides. This can be accomplished with either your hand, foot or a rolled-up blanket wrapped behind your baby’s back. Place toys and other objects that your baby likes close to his/her chest as he/she gets more comfortable lying on his/her back. Your baby will begin to cross his/her top leg over to the floor and...wa-la!...this is how he/she will initiate the roll to his/her tummy! 

I recommend doing this so that your baby doesn't get too used to always being on his back. I've seen many kids practice rolling while they are two or three months old, but if the roll to their tummy is not learned by six months (and I mean mastered), there can be issues with crawling later on in life. 

Prevent Flat Spots On Head 

It also helps to prevent the formation of flat spots on the back of the baby's head. This is enough incentive to keep things interesting throughout the day. You should change the position of your baby every 15-20 minutes. 

Practice Crossing The Midline 

Encourage your baby to play near (and cross) his/her middle line. The invisible line that runs through the middle of our bodies is the basis for movement. A baby's ability to cross the midline will determine how he/she can roll. Our center is always with us, so we can play midline on either our backs or sides. Babies can move their center with their hands in the midline between 1 and 3.5 months. They are also able to position their head with their head in the midline between 4-5 months. How does this help to roll over? 

This is the key concept. How do you teach a baby to roll over? You practice moving him across his midline in all sorts of ways! 

Segmental Roll 

Encourage your baby to distinguish the movements of their upper and lower bodies. The "segmental" roll is usually developed between 4-5 months. This happens because they can twist and separate the movements from the upper and lower bodies while simultaneously initiating the roll using their hips. After your baby has become comfortable with the rounded position, you can start to move him/her around in these twisting positions to his/her favorite children's song. Begin by moving both legs together and then move to the opposite side of the baby's body, helping him/her grab one foot with the other hand. To allow your baby's body to register each movement, pause for a second between twists. Then go on! 

Final Words

There you have it! Eight ways to teach babies how to roll. Be careful! We are not trying to teach babies how to roll for the Infant Olympics. Begin with the basics and have fun. Let the baby guide you. This information can be shared with anyone you know that may find it helpful...the more people who know it the better it is for our babies.