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Rolling over is a big developmental step for babies.
Around four or five months of age, babies usually have enough strength in their necks, arms, and backs to begin to turn over from their backs onto their tummies or vice versa.
You can encourage this milestone by helping them build up the proper strength – through “tummy-time” – and by playing with and guiding them.
Building Strength with Tummy Time
Monitor your baby’s development.
Exactly when your baby is ready to roll over will depend on a lot of things.
Some babies develop earlier, while others take a bit longer.
In general, though, babies usually start to roll over at about four months and will show some physical signs that they’re ready. Watch for these.
By this time, your baby should have more developed neck muscles and be able to support his or her head to look up.
Babies often start to push themselves up from the tummy to the shoulder at this age.
Also, look for rocking back and forth when you’ve put your baby down on his back.
Lay out a blanket or towel on the carpet.
“Tummy-time” is exercise that will help your baby strengthen the muscles in the head, neck, arms, and abdomen.
Putting babies on their tummies while awake and supervised will let them practice the skills they need to turn over.
It also promotes behavior that will eventually lead to crawling, reaching, and playing.
Babies can usually start tummy time when they are one or two months old, though some parents wait a while longer.
Just talk to your doctor to make sure that it’s OK.
Babies under one or two months can spend a few minutes on their tummy on mom or dad’s stomach, chest, or lap.
First of all, lay out a towel, blanket, or soft mat on the ground to give your baby a comfy area.
You can also hold tummy-time on your stomach or chest while you’re awake and lying down.
Always make sure to watch your baby during tummy-time, too.
It’s usually fine for your baby to lie tummy-down while awake and supervised, but babies should be on their backs while sleeping to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Put your baby on the blanket, tummy-down.
Gently place your baby tummy-down on the blanket or matted area.
Some doctors also suggest using a rolled up towel for extra support.
Put this under your baby’s chest with the arms over the roll.
Just make sure that your child’s chin is also past the roll so as not to obstruct his breathing.
Start out with sessions lasting three to five minutes and work up gradually to between 45 minutes to 60 minutes per day.
You can spread this time out, depending on your baby’s development and needs.
Pay close attention to when your baby gets tired or fussy and end the session, such as if the child starts to cry or lays down on the mat.
Engage your baby’s attention.
Now that you’ve got your baby on the ground, it’s time to start tummy-time.
Ideally, your baby should be encouraged during this time to lift up the head, react, reach, and eventually move and roll in response to your voice.
Getting down on the floor with your baby is another great way to encourage tummy-time.
May eye contact and talk, for instance, so that your baby is motivated to look at you and participate. You can also sing and coo.
Use items to encourage the child to look at you and to reach, as well.
For instance, try dangling a toy to have the infant lift his or her head up to look – this will strengthen the arm and neck muscles.
You might also put a small plastic mirror in front of your baby.
This way, the child will be encouraged to look up at himself.
Try tummy-time on the side.
You can also do these exercises with your baby positioned on the side.
Just place the child on the blanket on one side, with your hand or a rolled up blanket supporting the back.
Both the infant’s arms should be in front and the hips and knees slightly bent for comfort.
This alternative position can make it easier to reach and play.
Make sure to switch sides so that your baby uses both sides of his body.
This will ensure that muscles are strengthened equally.
Encouraging Your Baby With Play
Entice your child with a toy. Over time, your baby will build up all the muscles that are needed to turn over.
By about four months old, the child should be able to hold his head up and raise himself to the elbows during tummy-time.
You may also notice some rocking back and forth on the stomach, kicking the legs, and moving the arms as though swimming.
All of this means that your baby is nearly there.
You can encourage the next steps by using toys.
For example, wiggle a toy next to your baby on either side.
Try to draw attention to the toy so that she rolls toward it.
If the toy is in your baby’s line of vision, make sure that it is just out of reach so that the child will try to grab and reach for it.
Try a variety of colorful toys or toys that make noise, as well.
The idea is to use something attention-grabbing that will catch the baby’s interest – and that she’ll want to see or grab.
For example, you might take a colorful rattle and shake it off to one side, slightly out of the child’s range of vision.
Lie down next to the baby.
You can also try to be the bait yourself instead of a toy! Lie down to one side of your baby, just out of reach, to encourage the child to roll over toward you and close the distance.
This, too, can induce a first roll-over.
Continue to talk, coo, or sing to your baby while you’re lying down.
The idea is to be slightly out of reach or sight, so that the child wants to see you or move toward you.
Do playtime on the back.
Don’t just limit your play to tummy-time.
Let your baby play on his or her back, too, especially to get used to “rounded” positions – that is, pulling in and extending her feet and legs.
This tucking movement is important in the motor skills that help to turn over, too.
Achieving the rounded position is fairly easy, since most babies like to be on their backs.
It will also be easier for you to interact with your baby and to keep the child’s attention while she is lying down.
Do playtime on the back on a soft surface. You can use the same blanket as for tummy-time, but also your lap or any flat surface.
If you’d like, encourage your baby to roll by gently and slowly rocking her back and forth on the back (or tummy), helping the child shift weight from side to side.
You might do this along with a song.
Rolling over for the first time might come as a surprise to your baby and to you.
It can be a somewhat disturbing feeling for a baby, too.
Keep encouraging, interacting, and applauding your baby as the child reaches this milestone.
Your attention will keep your baby engaged and is key. Sing, talk, move, and laugh while you play.
Show your encouragement by smiling, too!
Using Hands-On Encouragement
Help your baby lift and cross his or her legs.
There are a number of hands-on methods that you can use to encourage – and teach – your baby in the motions of rolling over.
You can try these on their own or in addition to play. One is to guide your baby in lifting and crossing the legs.
First, lay your baby on the back on the tummy-time blanket and gently lift one leg.
While holding the other leg down, move the raised leg in slow circles.
Switch legs and do it again.
Next, with your baby still on his or her back, gently raise one leg again, cross it over the other, and roll the child in one movement onto the tummy.
Babies are hardwired at birth to keep their bodies aligned and only start to move by “segment” at around 4 to 5 months. This exercise is encouraging the movement your baby needs to roll over at the hips.
Roll your baby’s weight to the side when putting her down.
This method is easy to do.
It’s also something that you can incorporate into your daily routines like changing and putting your baby down to rest.
So, you can practice this move many times per day.
All you need to do is sit your baby on the bottom and roll her onto the side when laying her down.
Babies, as said, are hardwired to keep their bodies aligned and will try to keep their heads over the rest of their body.
Just reverse the motions when you pick your baby up again.
This will help your baby strengthen the muscles in the sides of the neck muscles and also get used to pushing against the floor on the way down.
Roll your baby gently down an incline.
One final method is to guide and encourage your baby through rolling over with the gentle aid of gravity. For this, you’ll need a raised surface on a very slight incline.
Be careful and make sure that the surface is soft, not too high, and not too steep.
Take a surface like a small mattress and place it on the ground.
To get the proper incline, place a small pillow under one end of the mattress.
Start from the top and (very gently) help your baby roll over.
Repeat this two or three times down the incline and then, once you’ve reached the bottom, do it from the top and roll her on the other side of her body.
In all cases, keep smiling, talking, encouraging, and interacting with your baby while you help the child turn over.