Your baby's first step toward mobility is actually a roll. Here's what to expect when your child reaches the rolling milestone and what it means for physical development.

By Tamekia Reece
Updated June 09, 2020
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Credit: Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock

Though you're probably looking forward to your baby crawling, she must accomplish another milestone first: rolling over. "For the first time, she can make a major change in the position of her body and her view of the world, all by herself," says Rallie McAllister, M.D., co-author of The Mommy MD Guide to Your Baby's First Year. As if that's not enough reason for your little one to dig this new skill, rolling over will lead to sitting up independently, and eventually to crawling and walking. Keep reading to learn more about when babies first to roll over, and how to keep your little gymnast safe.

Rolling Over and Physical Development

Rolling his little round body over is a huge physical feat for your baby. It requires good head control and strength in the neck and arm muscles, Dr. McAllister says. To prepare your baby for rolling over, give him plenty of tummy time, where he’ll practice holding up his head and pushing himself up using his arms. These pint-size push-ups help develop the muscles in the neck, shoulder, trunk, and arms, says Sheryl Pitner, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. As your baby gets stronger, he'll kick his legs, flail his arms as though he's swimming, and start rolling side to side and then all the way over.

When Do Babies Start Rolling Over?

"Some babies learn to roll over as early as 3 or 4 months of age, but most have mastered rolling over by 6 or 7 months," Dr. McAllister says. Usually babies learn to roll from belly to back first, and pick up rolling from back to front about a month later, since it requires more coordination and muscular strength. The timing of that first roll may be a surprise, so make sure you keep a hand on your baby anytime she's on the changing table or another elevated surface.

Your baby will likely be alarmed the first few times he rolls over, and there will probably be some tears. Because he's never experienced the movement before, the quick change in position can be scary. But soon after, he'll realize this new trick is actually quite cool. He'll use his tumbling skills to move close enough to grab a toy, he'll roll toward you when he wants some snuggle time, and he may even attempt to roll his way out of a diaper change

Once your little gymnast knows how to do a full roll (from back to front and back again, or vice versa), rolling around over and over can be amusing in itself. Some babies even use rolling as a form of transportation, rolling themselves from here to there. 

If your baby hasn't rolled over by about 7 months and isn't sitting or trying to scoot (some babies skip rolling altogether), talk to the pediatrician about it.

How to Keep a Rolling Baby Safe

As your baby is making her way around, don't be surprised if she gets into all kinds of things: a crumb under the couch, the dog's bowl, or that plugged-in laptop charger. If it's within rolling distance, she'll try to make her way to it—so it's best to go over your childproofing checklist once again. Also, it’s smart to give your Olympic tumbler a safe space to roll (a thick blanket, play mat, area rug, etc.) throughout the day. She should be supervised anytime she's on a raised surface. 

Some parents worry that their baby will roll onto her tummy while she's asleep in the crib (stomach sleeping can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS). However, you don't have to check up on your baby every hour or stalk the baby monitor, Dr. Pitner says. Just make sure you put her to sleep on her back and that her sleep environment is safe. This means no crib bumpers, wedges, pillows, stuffed animals, loose blankets, and loose clothing in or on the crib.

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