Most babies can roll over by 6 months, and many do so much earlier.
However, when babies roll very early or seem to have other uncontrolled movements, it may be a sign of cerebral palsy.

Every baby is different, and a range of factors, such as premature birth, can affect when they hit milestones. However, significant delays in rolling over may point to a problem with their motor skills.

Once a baby begins rolling over, it is crucial to ensure that they cannot roll into trouble. It is also no longer safe to swaddle them at night.

Baby rolling over on bedShare on Pinterest
Image credit: Charles Gullung/Getty Images

Many babies begin trying to roll from their stomachs to their backs at around 2 months of age. Some succeed, but most take another month or two.

By 4 months, many babies can roll from their stomachs to their backs. At 6 months, many babies begin rolling from their backs to their stomachs.

If a baby cannot roll in either direction by 6 months, it may indicate a developmental delay or underlying health issue.

Rolling over takes practice and coordination, and young newborns lack the head control and other motor skills needed to manage it.

As a baby’s strength grows, they may show signs that they are about to roll, such as:

  • lifting their head and shoulders more during tummy time
  • rolling onto their shoulders or side
  • kicking their legs and scooting in a circle when on their back
  • increased leg and hip strength, such as rolling the hips from side to side and using the legs to lift the hips up

Some babies may “accidentally” roll over and seem afraid or surprised a few weeks before they begin rolling regularly.

Every individual is different, and babies naturally develop at different rates.

But some research suggests that culture or geographic location may influence how babies roll over. For example, an older study, from 2004, found that babies in Hong Kong or China roll from back to stomach first — the opposite direction as babies in the United States, who usually roll from stomach to back first.

Some other factors that might affect when a baby rolls over include:

  • Motor development: Rolling is a measure of motor skills, so babies who develop motor skills more slowly, for any reason, may roll over later.
  • Practice and support: While rolling over is a developmental milestone, it is also a skill that demands practice. Babies may roll over earlier if they are encouraged to spend time playing on the floor, if they generally have an incentive to move, and if they have help practicing.
  • Prematurity: Babies born prematurely tend to develop more slowly early in life, but they usually catch up. In the meantime, a baby born 2 months early, for example, might roll over 2 months later than is typical for full-term babies.
  • Other issues: A 2012 study found that babies who rolled over later had more of certain types of body fat by 3 years of age — but not overall body fat or obesity.

A wide range of rolling behaviors is typical, and most babies roll over for the first time between 2 and 4 months of age.

However, when babies roll very early or seem to have other uncontrolled movements, it may be a sign of cerebral palsy. Early rolling can signal characteristic differences in reflexes.

Some other warning signs to look for over time include:

  • gastrointestinal problems
  • a history of pneumonia
  • unusual movements
  • trouble with balance
  • poor muscle tone
  • little apparent control over movements

Before a baby can roll over, they need to develop head control, shoulder strength, and the understanding that they can move independently.

To help a baby master these skills and reach other developmental milestones, try:

  • playing on the floor with the baby every day, for example, by:
    • cooing and mimicking their noises
    • singing
    • reading
    • showing them colorful toys or images
  • giving the baby tummy time to encourage head, neck, and shoulder strength
  • putting toys near the baby but out of reach, to make floor time more fun and encourage movement
  • giving the baby toys that make sounds
  • responding positively to the baby’s “talking” and movements, such as by acting excited when the baby tries to roll over

Speak with a doctor or another healthcare provider if a baby:

  • cannot roll in either direction — stomach to back or back to stomach — by 6 months
  • gains some motor skills, and begins to roll over, for example, but then loses these skills
  • seems unable to control their movements

Below are some other motor milestones and when a baby might reach them:

  • Head control: By 2 months, most babies can hold their heads up for short periods.
  • Sitting up: Some babies can get into a sitting position by 6 months, and many begin sitting up without support between 6 and 9 months.
  • Standing: Many babies begin pulling themselves up to stand between 6 and 9 months, and most can do so by 1 year of age.
  • Cruising: Cruising means walking with support, from the couch and other furniture, for example, and most babies do this by 1 year.
  • Walking: Most babies begin walking at around 1 year, though some begin slightly earlier or later.

All babies are different, and there is no way to predict when any baby will roll over.

It is important to get to know a baby’s rhythms and behavior patterns. Doing so can help a parent or caregiver respond more effectively and anticipate the next big developmental milestone.

A pediatrician can provide guidance to anyone concerned about their baby’s motor skills or development.