Do Babies Roll Over—And Which Way Will They Roll?
The latest 'Oh, Baby!' column
Photos of babies courtesy of (left to right): iStock.com/StephaneHachey; iStock.com/Benjamin Simeneta; iStock.com/ByMPhotos; iStock.com/DaydreamsGirl
The answer is … it depends.
Infant motor development in the first 6 months of life is highly predictable, but rolling is one milestone that can be more variable. Some babies roll over in the first couple of months, while others don’t start until after 6 months of age. There are babies who roll from tummy to back first, and babies who start their rolling by going from back to tummy.
Rolling is usually the first time your little one will be able to change his position all by himself. The tucked up position a newborn is used to being in puts him at an advantage for developing the ability to roll over. A newborn’s back is more rounded, so he doesn’t rest as flat on it, and his knees are tucked under him with his bottom up when he’s lying on his tummy.
Generally, this very early rolling is the result of a reflex babies have when they are born. In this instance, if a baby’s head is turned when she is on her back, her body will turn in order to keep her head lined up with it. In other instances, she may be wiggling and kicking so much on her back or belly that she rolls herself over without meaning to.
Once a baby is a few months old, we see this “accidental” rolling less often because of the changes in her body proportions and the way she moves her weight when she is on her back or belly.
When exactly your baby begins to purposely roll over depends on how strong his back and belly muscles are, and on his motivation to move and explore his environment. It also depends on how well he likes being on his back or belly. The first few times he rolls may be accidental, and therefore he may be startled or upset by the movement. While this is may be a surprising feeling, these early experiences will also help him learn about how he can move his body himself. In the past, babies seemed to learn to roll from their belly to back before they rolled from their back to belly. Nowadays, it seems to be much more variable.
Babies who love tummy time may be more likely to roll to their tummy from their back, while babies who are unhappy on their tummy may wiggle and twist until they figure out how to get off their belly. The more time your baby spends flat on her back on a firm surface working on tummy time, the stronger her back and tummy muscles will be, and the easier it will be for her to master the new skill of rolling.
By 6-7 months of age, babies are typically able to roll from back to belly, as well as belly to back. As with all movement, it’s also important that we see baby rolling to both the right and left sides. When babies first learn a new skill, they will usually practice it over and over and over again. This is their way of fine-tuning their movements and learning to make them as efficient as possible.
During this time, it’s not unusual to see a baby who tends to move in one preferred direction. Just be sure that within a few weeks of learning that new skill, you also see him working on the other direction. If your baby is struggling a bit, don’t be shy about helping him practice so he can master this movement.
Whether your baby rolls at 4 months or 6 months of age, remember that this is his first experience with changing his position all on his own — an exciting new skill to celebrate.
Rebecca Quinones and Rachel Gandy, both of whom have doctorates in physical therapy, are founders of Babies On The MOVE, a Cary-based organization committed to helping children excel in motor development with in-home pediatric physical therapy and community-based infant movement classes for all abilities. Learn more about their services at babiesonthemoverdu.com.