Once your baby has some head control, they'll start lifting their head and chest and positioning their body to roll over. They'll eventually learn to flip over from tummy to back, and then from back to tummy. The incentive for those early rolls is often an elusive toy – or you.
When do babies roll over?
Your baby may be able to kick over from their tummy to their back as early as 3 to 4 months old. It usually takes them until about 5 or 6 months old to flip from back to tummy, though, because they need stronger neck and arm muscles for that maneuver. Some babies never roll over, or never roll over from back to tummy, but most do.
How babies learn to roll over
For a baby, rolling over is a coordinated act. It takes head control and strong neck, arm, core, and back muscles to make it happen. Babies start preparing for this milestone from the time they're born!
Here's a timeline of how your baby will master rolling over:
Your baby may not have much head and neck control or strength for the first few weeks, which is normal. (Or, if your baby is already lifting their head in the first weeks of life, they're already on their way!) Plenty of tummy time, even as a newborn, is crucial to help build those muscles. Start with short sessions a couple times a day for a few minutes at a time.
1 to 2 months
Your baby may struggle to lift their head when placed on their tummy, and will eventually lift their head briefly and turn it from side to side. Encourage your baby to stick with it – even if it looks uncomfortable and they're fussy.
3 to 4 months
Around now, your baby may do a "mini pushup" when placed on their stomach, lifting their head and shoulders high and using their arms for support. This helps strengthen the muscles they'll use to roll over.
Your baby will likely roll over for the first time, while doing tummy time. When they suddenly end up on their back, they may be just as surprised as you are! At first, rolling over can be a little scary for your baby – but they'll soon be happy about their new skill.
5 to 6 months
At 5 months old your baby will probably be able to lift their head, push up on their arms, and arch their back to lift their chest off the ground. They may even rock on their stomach, kick their legs, and "swim" with their arms.
All this exercise helps your baby develop the muscles they need to roll over in both directions – likely by the time they're 5 or 6 months old.
While some babies adopt rolling as their primary mode of ground transportation for a while, others skip it altogether and move on to sitting, lunging, and crawling. As long as your child continues to gain new skills and shows interest in getting around and exploring their environment, don't worry.
How to help your baby with rolling over
Here a few ways to encourage rolling over:
- Give your baby plenty of tummy time to strengthen the muscles they need to roll over.
- Put some toys just out of reach to encourage your baby to roll for them.
- Make tummy time more fun by singing songs, shaking toys, and lying down next to your baby.
- Give your baby a play mat or tummy-time mat where they can practice their moves comfortably.
- Cheer your baby's efforts and smile.
Keeping your baby safe when rolling over
It's important to babyproof your home if you haven't already. You'd be surprised by the things a rolling baby can get their hands on.
To keep your baby safe once they're near rolling:
- Secure your baby on the changing table with the safety strap and keep your hand on or right next to them.
- Never leave your baby unattended on an elevated surface (such as a bed).
- Check the floors and remove small items and potential choking hazards.
- Install safety gates to block your child's access to stairways and other unsafe areas.
- Stop swaddling your baby at 2 months old, before they can roll over.
Once your baby masters rolling over, at around 6 months old, the risk of SIDS drops significantly. Keep putting your baby down on their back to sleep, but if they roll over while sleeping, you don't need to flip them to their back. It's still important to follow safe sleep practices, such as keeping your baby's sleeping space free of soft toys, loveys, loose blankets, and pillows.
What to do if your baby doesn't roll over
If your baby hasn't figured out how to flip one way or the other by the time they're 6 months old, and hasn't moved on to sitting, scooting, or crawling instead, talk to their doctor.
Any time you suspect a problem with your baby's development, it's best to act early and get help, if needed, with any developmental delays.
Also talk to your baby's doctor if your child:
- Doesn't reach for things close to them
- Seems very stiff or very floppy
Keep in mind that babies develop skills differently, some more quickly than others – and some babies never take to rolling over. Also, premature babies may reach this and other milestones later than their peers.
After your baby starts rolling over, what's next?
Your baby developed their leg, neck, back, abdominal, and arm muscles while learning to roll over. Now they'll put those same muscles to work as they learn to sit independently, rock on all fours, and crawl. Most babies master sitting up without support sometime between 6 and 8 months. Crawling comes a little later.
Rolling over is a big accomplishment, but your baby will soon be on to the next thing – and getting increasingly mobile. Your little one is always working on that next milestone, so enjoy (and encourage) these early ones while you can.