Rolling is a major milestone for babies and the first step toward crawling. However, a parent or caregiver may need to change an infant’s sleep practices when they start rolling, especially if they sleep in a swaddle.
When an infant rolls in their sleep, it is a sign that they may start deliberately rolling when they are awake.
This article looks into why infants start to roll, answers some common questions about this developmental stage, and suggests when to see a doctor.
Infants begin rolling as they gain strength in their core, shoulders, and neck.
Every baby is different, so although most begin rolling between the ages of 4–6 months, some roll earlier or a little later. Some may roll a single time, then not roll again for weeks. Others may begin rolling continually as soon as they master the skill.
Rolling itself is neither dangerous nor a sign that anything is wrong, even in infants that start rolling at a younger-than-average age. In fact, it is one sign of healthy development.
However, rolling does mean that an infant can move about more in their sleeping space, so it can present some new risks of which parents and caregivers should be aware.
Putting an infant to sleep
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that parents or caregivers room-share, meaning that they keep the baby’s crib or bassinet in their room without sharing a bed with the infant.
Once infants begin rolling, people can reduce the risk of harm to the baby by taking certain steps:
- removing any bedding or decorations from the crib, including crib bumpers
- avoiding leaving the infant sleeping on a couch or another surface off which they could roll
- stopping swaddling the infant, as swaddling makes moving more difficult
- avoiding using weighted blankets or other sleep aids
- moving the infant to a crib, if they are still in a bassinet, basket, or another small sleep area
It is important not to try to stop infants from rolling, strap them into a swing, or swaddle them more tightly. Limiting movement is actually more dangerous than allowing it.
When babies begin rolling, either awake or in their sleep, parents and caregivers may worry that they will get stuck on their stomach, increasing the risk of suffocation.
However, once an infant can roll onto their stomach, they have enough head control to lift their head and breathe. Rolling from the stomach to the back is usually easier, too, so if a baby can roll onto their stomach, they can roll back.
Due to this, there is no need to roll infants back once they can roll over. Babies sleep best and safest when they can find a comfortable sleeping position on their own. However, it is important to make sure that their crib is safety tested and does not have coverings that can trap the infant’s head.
Some babies wake up when they roll over or are so excited about their new skill that they continually roll in bed.
It is common for sleep habits to change when infants master new skills. Most babies eventually learn to settle back down — sometimes with help from a parent or caregiver and sometimes on their own.
It may be necessary to change some of an infant’s sleep routine, such as by moving them to a crib and stopping swaddling. However, maintaining as much of the old routine as possible may help the baby adjust to their newfound independence.
To improve the baby’s sleep quality, people can try:
- putting the infant to sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room
- using a white noise machine or shushing the infant back to sleep
- establishing a predictable bedtime routine
- putting the infant to bed at the same time each night
Some babies sleep better on their stomach than on their back. However, parents and caregivers should still put infants to sleep on their back, as this sleep position is
Babies who can roll can then find their own sleep position. It is safe for them to sleep on the stomach or side if they choose to, though they should always start on their back.
Parents or caregivers should schedule regular visits with a pediatrician and tell them when the baby’s sleep habits change.
There is no need to see a doctor solely because an infant is rolling over or is waking more. However, it is advisable to talk with a doctor if the infant:
- seems very distressed or uncomfortable upon waking
- rolls and seems to have difficulty flipping back over
- has trouble going to sleep after several weeks of healthful sleep habits
- has not begun rolling over by about 6 months of age
- does not have good head or neck control but is trying to roll over
Rolling over brings an infant closer to crawling, sitting, and, eventually, walking. It is an important developmental milestone that helps babies reach the items they want and gain more control over their world.
It can also shift the household routine and temporarily cause some sleepless nights. However, with a consistent routine and comfort from a parent or caregiver, babies can sleep well even after rolling.