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When your baby rolls onto their stomach while sleeping but can’t roll back yet, it’s scary. Learn what to do, when it’s safe for them to sleep on their belly, and how to help them learn to roll both ways.
It’s an exciting milestone when your baby first learns how to roll over. However, this new skill can also cause anxiety for parents, especially when it comes to safe sleep practices.
You may have heard that babies should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). So what should you do if your baby rolls onto their stomach while sleeping but can’t yet roll back onto their back?
Why Do Babies First Learn to Roll Onto Their Stomachs?
Rolling over is an important developmental milestone for babies. It shows they are gaining strength and coordination in their upper body, arms, and neck.
Most babies first learn to roll from their backs onto their stomachs. This is because rolling from back to tummy requires less coordination than rolling from tummy to back.
To roll from back to front, a baby only needs to throw their weight to one side using their arms and neck muscles. Rolling from tummy to back requires more strength to push up on the arms and rotate the entire upper body.
Babies usually master rolling from tummy to back between 4 and 6 months old. But for the first few weeks after learning to roll onto their stomachs, babies often get “stuck” and can’t roll back yet.
Is It Safe For Babies to Sleep on Their Stomachs?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep on their backs until they are 1 year old. Back sleeping reduces the risk of SIDS.
However, once a baby can roll both ways on their own, it is okay to let them sleep in whatever position they prefer. This is usually around 6 months old.
The important thing is that your baby can roll from tummy to back again without help. If they end up on their stomach but can’t roll back yet, they may be at higher risk.
What to Do If Your Baby Rolls Onto Their Stomach while Sleeping But Can’t Roll Back Yet
If your baby is under 6 months old and ends up on their stomach while sleeping but can’t get back on their back, you should gently return them to the back sleep position.
Even if your baby is older than 6 months, if they rarely roll or have just started rolling onto their stomach, you may want to put them back on their back until you’re sure they can roll both ways confidently.
Here are some tips to keep your baby safe if they are rolling onto their stomach before they can roll back again:
1. Increase Tummy Time During the Day
Giving your baby plenty of supervised tummy time while they’re awake will help strengthen their muscles. This allows them to become capable rollers sooner.
Aim for several sessions of tummy time throughout the day. Start with just a few minutes at a time and increase as your baby becomes used to it.
2. Stop Swaddling
Once your baby shows signs of rolling, swaddling is no longer safe for sleep. A swaddled baby who rolls onto their stomach may have difficulty moving back again.
Transition your baby to sleep in a wearable blanket or sleep sack with their arms free once they start attempting to roll.
3. Use a Pacifier at Nap Time and Bedtime
Studies show pacifier use reduces SIDS risk. When your baby is going through the rolling transition, try offering a pacifier as part of their nap and bedtime routines.
If the pacifier falls out while they sleep, you don’t need to replace it. Any sucking before sleep onset provides protection.
4. Make Sure the Crib is Completely Empty
Don’t use any pillows, blankets, bumpers, or positioners in your baby’s crib. Empty cribs are safest.
If your baby rolls onto their stomach, you don’t want their face to be pressed up against anything that could pose a suffocation hazard.
5. Put Your Baby’s Feet Against the Crib Rail
Some parents find that placing their baby with feet touching the crib rail helps deter rolling. Your baby may be less likely to flip onto their tummy from this position.
Just make sure both face and head remain uncovered and free. Don’t use rolled blankets or towels to prop your baby up.
6. Watch Your Baby on a Baby Monitor
Use a reliable video baby monitor so you can check in on your baby while they sleep. This way if they do happen to roll onto their stomach, you’ll know right away.
Don’t rely on regular audio-only monitors, since they won’t alert you if your baby ends up in an unsafe sleep position.
At What Age Can Babies Sleep Safely on Their Stomachs?
Once your baby is rolling from back to front and front to back with ease – usually around 4 to 6 months old – they can be left to sleep on their stomach if they choose.
The important thing is that your baby develops tummy time skills first and can get into that position on their own. Never put a baby under 1 year old down to sleep on their stomach.
Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns about your baby’s rolling skills or sleep safety. They can help assess if your baby is ready for tummy sleeping.
Signs your baby can sleep on their stomach include:
- Rolls both ways consistently without getting stuck
- Easily lifts and turns the head when on the stomach
- Pushes up onto arms/elbows when on the stomach
- Sits with support or is close to sitting independently
In the first 6 months, always place your baby on the back to sleep – even if they will just roll onto their tummy anyway! Following safe sleep guidelines is essential to reduce SIDS risk.
What If Your Baby Prefers Sleeping on her stomach?
Some babies simply seem to sleep better on their tummies once they learn how to roll back and forth. They may fuss or wake up more frequently when you put them on their backs.
While all babies under 1 year should be initially placed to sleep on their backs, here are some tips for dealing with a baby who prefers their stomach:
- Make sure your baby is always placed on their back when first putting them down to sleep, even if they will immediately roll onto their tummy.
- Try soothing techniques like swaddling with arms out, white noise, gentle rocking/swaying, or offering a pacifier before putting your baby down, to help them settle on their back initially.
- Watch your baby on a video monitor and let them remain on their stomach as long as they are rolling there purposely. Never put your baby on their stomach if they are not yet rolling both ways independently.
- Do lots of supervised tummy time during the day so your baby becomes comfortable in that position while awake as well.
- Discuss your baby’s sleep preferences with their pediatrician to make sure their rolling and development are on track.
While tummy sleeping comes with risks, a baby who purposefully rolls onto their stomach is generally safe. Always follow your pediatrician’s advice tailored to your baby’s unique needs and abilities.
How to Help Your Baby Learn to Roll from Tummy to Back
Once your baby has figured out how to roll from their back onto their stomach, you’ll want to start working on developing their ability to roll the other way as well.
Rolling from tummy to back requires more coordination and strength, but these tips can help your baby master the skill:
Prop Baby Up at an Incline
Place a rolled-up towel under your baby’s chest when they are on their tummy. This will prop them up at an angle and make it easier for them to use their arms to start the roll. Just don’t prop under their face.
Hold Toys to Encourage Reaching
Get down on your baby’s level during tummy time. Hold toys up high to encourage them to look up and reach with their arms. This builds the shoulder and arm strength needed to push up.
Roll Your Baby Halfway
Help your baby get started by gently rolling their lower body halfway, keeping their arms planted. This may motivate them to finish the role.
Roll During Diaper Changes
When your baby is on their back for a diaper change, help them roll part way to their side before rolling back. This is great practice.
Assist After Failed Attempts
If your baby tries to roll back but gets tired and frustrated, give them a break, then try gently assisting their hips to complete the roll.
Praise All Efforts
Celebrate any small attempt at rolling over, even just lifting the head off the floor. This positive reinforcement will encourage your baby to keep trying.
Increase Tummy Time Gradually
Start with just a few minutes of tummy time, a few times a day. As your baby becomes used to it, increase the time. This allows their muscles to strengthen gradually.
With a little practice, your baby will get that back-to-tummy roll down in no time! Remember, never leave your baby unattended during tummy time.
Bedding Tips to Prevent Rolling During Sleep
If your baby is still learning to roll back and forth, a few simple adjustments to their crib can help reduce the chances they will end up on their stomach before they are ready:
Use a Sleep Sack
A sleep sack keeps your baby warm without loose blankets that could end up covering their face if they roll over. Make sure to stop swaddling once rolling begins.
Dress Baby Warmer
Instead of blankets, dress your baby in warmer sleepwear like footed pajamas or a sleep sack to maintain a comfortable temperature if unswaddled.
Some parents place crib wedges (which go under the crib mattress) to create an incline. This makes it harder for the baby to roll. Remove wedges once the baby can roll both ways.
A mesh crib tent can be used to prevent your baby from rolling into the harder crib rails or getting limbs stuck between slats. Remove the tent once rolling is mastered.
Position Towards Crib’s Center
Place your baby to sleep with their feet touching the center of the crib rather than the sides. This may deter rolling.
Nested Bean Zen Sack
The Zen Sack’s weighted beanbag on the chest mimics your touch to comfort baby to sleep on their back. The sack transitions well post-swaddle.
Remember that no products or positioning can prevent all rolling. But these tips can help reduce the likelihood while your baby is in the early rolling stage.
When to Talk to Your Doctor About Rolling
While most babies quickly progress from rolling just one way to mastering both directions, contact your pediatrician if:
- Your baby has been attempting to roll for more than 1 month but unsuccessful
- Your baby previously could roll but has lost this ability
- Your baby can only roll in one direction after 2 months of trying
- Your baby’s head does not rotate properly when rolling
- Rolling causes your baby pain or difficulty breathing
Delays in rolling over or any loss of milestones already met can be signs of potential medical issues requiring further evaluation. Don’t hesitate to discuss any concerns with your pediatrician.