Rolling is an exciting milestone that is typically mastered belly to back and back to belly by 6 months of age. Time frames for rolling can vary depending on the child, but many will begin to roll between 3-4 months. Many little ones will roll belly to back first, but some will roll back to belly first and that is totally fine, though we want to make sure they are able to safely lift their head and clear their airway if they don't yet know how to roll belly to back. Some parents are startled to find that their still-swaddled 2-3 month old is starting to roll, in which case it is time to drop that swaddle! So what can you do to help your little one master rolling? Here are some tips:
Roll your baby into and out of tummy time, rather than simply placing them there. Prior to starting tummy time, place baby on their back. Roll baby from their back to their belly to position for tummy time. When tummy time is over or if a break is needed, roll baby from their belly to their back before picking baby up. This will expose baby to rolling as a means of transitioning between positions. As baby gets stronger, he or she will start to attempt to roll on their own!
Position baby's forearms under the chest during tummy time. Imagine being a newborn with minimal neck strength and being placed belly down with your arms out like a football goal post...frustrating right? With the arms out wider, its very hard to lift the head and chest. Position baby's forearms under their chest instead, putting them at a better mechanical advantage to push into the ground to lift their head and chest. Try it yourself and notice the difference...face down with football goal post arms versus face down with forearms under your chest...the latter makes it much easier to lift the head! Being able to push up through the forearms, lift the head and lift the chest are important for rolling belly to back.
Use toys to encourage weight-shifting. During tummy time, hold a toy or high-contrast flash card in front of baby, moving it slowly from side to side and up and down. Very early on, even these head movements as baby visually tracks can elicit small weight-shifts. As baby gets more confident pushing up onto their forearms during tummy time, they may begin to reach for a toy on the floor nearby. This will further develop weight-shifts, a necessary component for rolling! While baby is pushing up onto their forearms in tummy time, begin to move a toy slowly from in front of baby's eyes, out to the side, and then behind baby, moving slowly so baby can visually track. Eventually, baby will shift their weight and use their arm to push off the floor in order to roll to their back.
Play intentionally on their back. Allow baby to visually track a toy or flash card while on their back, turning their head side to side and up and down. Dangle toys over baby's chest to encourage reaching while on their back, as this will help develop arm and core strength. Encourage baby to grab their knees (typically begins around 4 months) and feet (usually around 5 months), as this will help to develop core and leg strength.
Play in a side-lying position. Position baby on their side (alternating which one!) with a toy in front to encourage reaching and grasping with both hands. When baby is <3 months, position a rolled blanket, couch cushion, or your leg behind baby as needed to help them maintain the side-lying position. Position toys to encourage baby to practice rolling side-lying to back (by dangling a toy and moving it away from baby) and side-lying to belly (moving the toy from eye-level in front of baby to diagonally overhead).
TIPS FOR SAFE SLEEP AND ROLLING:
If you find that your little one is beginning to roll from their back to their belly in the crib and is unable to independently roll from belly to back, it is important to stop swaddling immediately if you haven't already. Always ensure that there is nothing additional in or on the crib beyond a snug-fitting crib sheet and baby.
During the day, give baby plenty of active play on their tummy, back, and side to allow for strengthening on all sides of the body. Roll baby into/out of each position for additional exposure to rolling.
During tummy time, make sure that baby is positioned with their forearms under their chest. Use toys at eye level or higher to encourage baby to lift their head and chest to strengthen the neck, back, shoulder, and core muscles effectively during tummy time. Also during tummy time, dangle toys, moving them from in front of baby to behind baby to encourage weight-shifting and motivation to problem solve rolling to follow the toy.
Minimize use of devices and opt for floor play as often as possible. If you need to contain baby for safety, try putting them in the pack-n-play instead of a device (such as a swing, floor seat, or exersaucer). This will still allow free movement, strengthening, and problem solving those transitions! As a rule of thumb, minimize time in devices to less than 15 minutes a day.
If you need a little extra guidance to help your little one master rolling, schedule a free phone consultation to learn more about my Infant Developmental Wellness sessions!