Roll up, roll up! Let's talk babies rolling in their sleep...
When your baby gives you their first proper smile around 6 to 8 weeks, it can make all those sleepless nights feel worthwhile! From then on, your baby's milestones will come thick and fast, bringing excitement and joy. Unfortunately, they can also disrupt your baby's sleep.
When your baby starts to roll, this can wreak havoc on their sleep with short naps and frequent night wakes. But don't worry, this article has everything you need to navigate the ups and downs (or should that be lefts and rights?) of rolling. Find out what to expect when your baby starts to roll and how to get their sleep back on track again.
In this article:
- When do babies start to roll?
- What to do if baby rolls over while sleeping
- How to help your baby
- Safe sleep when rolling
When do babies start to roll?
There are two different ways that your baby will learn to roll; tummy to back and back to tummy.
You might be shocked to discover your newborn sleeping on their side in the first few weeks after birth. You may even think to yourself "wow, this kid's a genius and is going to be rolling in no time!"
Nope. Sorry to burst your bubble but this is a leftover instinct from their time in the womb. Newborns instinctively curl up in the foetal position for sleep, which means they can unintentionally roll onto their side. Rest assured, it's VERY unlikely that your newborn will roll all the way over, as they simply don’t have the upper body strength for this yet!
Most babies learn to roll around 4 months of age and they start by rolling from their tummy to their back. Once your baby has sufficient strength in their upper body and neck, they can lean to the side and the weight of their head will then help them roll onto their back.
The first time may come as a surprise! However, it won't take long for your baby to learn how to roll from their tummy to their back intentionally.
After this, it’s onto mastering how to roll from back to tummy. This requires a lot more muscle strength and coordination, which is why it often happens a bit later, around 5-6 months of age.
Remember, all babies develop at their own rate and this is just a guide! If you are concerned about your baby not hitting their developmental milestones, you should reach out to your healthcare provider.
What to do if baby rolls over while sleeping
We all know that babies should sleep on their back…but what if they roll over in their sleep?
The answer to this question very much depends on whether your baby is swaddled or not.
Once your baby is rolling in bed, it's no longer safe to swaddle them. This is because they need their arms free to push themselves up, so they can turn their head to breathe. So once your baby starts rolling, you will need to stop swaddling pronto! You can do this using our Quick Method HERE.
Once your baby is out of the swaddle, we recommend using a baby sleeping bag instead. This gives them freedom to move and roll around, whilst still keeping them nice and warm.
You should always put your baby to sleep on their back but if they roll onto their stomach, it's fine to leave them to sleep in that position, as long as their arms are free. If you don't feel comfortable with this, you can gently roll them onto their back again. If they start to stir, try shushing them while you roll them, to help them resettle back to sleep.
But wait... what if your baby is waking and getting upset when they roll onto their tummy?
Rest assured, you're not alone. This is super common and it can be super frustrating too! Your baby will roll over, then get annoyed and cry until you roll them on to their back…only for them to instantly flip themselves onto their tummy again. Repeat over and over, all night long!
Trust me when I say this is just a phase. I know, I know, I used to hate when people said that to me too, but in this case it is true. Eventually, one of two things will happen...
- 1. Your baby will decide that, actually, they don't mind sleeping on their stomach.
- 2. Your baby will figure out how to roll from their belly to their back.
Either way, your baby WILL eventually stop waking themselves up every time they roll over.
How to help your baby
You’re probably thinking “that’s great but what can I do in the meantime?” The good new is, there are lots of things you can do to help your baby through this stage and get a better night's sleep again!
Practise, practise, practise
Give your baby plenty of opportunities to practise rolling both ways during their awake time. If your baby does not want to roll over from back to tummy, try putting toys in their line of vision. Make sure the toys are close enough to see but not close enough to grab. This encourages your baby to roll over to get them.
You can also give your baby plenty of tummy time each day to help strengthen their arms, shoulders and torso. This will help them learn how to roll from their tummy to their back. Teach your baby to roll over by holding a toy above their head so they have to look up. Lifting their head like this will make it easier for them to roll onto their back.
Don’t rush in!
When your baby rolls onto their tummy during a nap or overnight, give them a minute or two. Allow them to try and roll themselves back over, as long as it is safe to do so. Giving them the opportunity to figure it out for themselves means they will get there much sooner! If we always rush in and help them roll back over, they aren't getting the chance to practice that skill.
Give your baby a helping hand if needed
Until your baby learns to roll onto their back, they may need your help from time to time. This is especially true if they are getting upset!
When you go into their room, keep it dark and keep your baby's white noise playing. This will make it easier for your baby to resettle back to sleep. Roll your baby almost all the way over and then let them do the last bit themselves.
Try to remember that your baby is learning a new skill and it will take time for them to master it. But with every roll, they get that little bit stronger and more coordinated!
Safe sleep when rolling
Safety is always our biggest priority when it comes to your baby's sleep. So here are some key pointers to remember when it comes to your baby rolling in their sleep:
- If you think your baby is getting close to rolling, start gradually removing the swaddle.
- Remove the swaddle straight away once your baby is rolling from back to tummy to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Check your baby's sleeping space is set up for safe sleep. Use a firm mattress and no loose bedding, pillows or toys before 12 months.
- Use natural fabrics such as cotton or merino for swaddles/sleeping bags to prevent overheating.
- Whether your baby is rolling or not, always put them down for sleep on their back.
- If your baby has their arms free and they are rolling onto their stomach, you do not need to roll them onto their back again unless advised by a medical professional.
Whenever your baby learns a new gross motor skill, such as rolling, crawling, or walking, it can temporarily disrupt their sleep. Giving your baby the time and space to master this new skill is the key to getting a good night's sleep again!
If your little one’s sleep has gone haywire since hitting a new milestone, we can help you get things back on track. You’ll find everything you need in our Little Ones App, including support from our team of expert sleep consultants.
The Lullaby Trust (2023, May 2). The Lullaby Trust. https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/
Weiss, K. (2015, August 24). When Do Babies Roll Over? What to Expect; WhattoExpect. https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/roll-over/