Why Do Babies Roll At Night?
They gotta move! It’s as simple as that. As babies learn new skills, their bodies instinctively want to practice the moves. And when babies have a firm, flat surface and no distractions (think mattress in the night), they can’t help but move their bodies in the way they were meant to.
Crib Safety and Transition Swaddling
The first thing I recommend is to stop the swaddle or Magic Merlin if you’re still using one. Instead, I highly recommend the Zippadee Zip as a transition swaddle. It actually isn’t a swaddle at all, because it allows for freedom of movement. Your baby can go from rolling over to sitting up to crawling to standing and continue to wear a Zippadee Zip. Best of all, the Zippadee Zip is designed to calm a baby’s startle or Moro reflex. What better way to transition out of a swaddle than with a product designed with this in mind?
The AAP warns against use of positioners. These products (like the Dock a Tot and wedges with velcro attachments) are marketed to keep babies in one place in the crib, but they are especially dangerous to a baby who is learning to flip over.
When Rolling Causes a Night Waking
Your baby may be able to roll over from tummy to back as early as 4 months. But it might not be until 5 or 6 months until he can roll from back to tummy. This milestone might take you by surprise at bedtime or the middle of the night. Even though many 5-6-month-olds can flip from tummy to back (they’ve done it during the day, right?), they might wake up on their tummy and cry to be flipped back over.
If your baby is flipping over in the middle of the night and mid-nap too, you’re probably both more exhausted than ever. Almost as soon as they are flipped over, they cry out because they’ve rolled again. Before giving up on sleep for good, there are some things you can do to get your child’s sleep back on track in no time.
If your child has rolled over and seems stuck, unable to get comfortable, I suggest going in and flipping back over. If you’ve done sleep training and your baby was sleeping through the night before starting to roll, I recommend waiting a few minutes before going in. When you do go in, limit interaction, flip your baby over and leave the room again. You’ll have to do it somewhat methodically and leave the room as soon as you flip him over. Do this at night for a week. If your baby is extremely upset when he wakes on his tummy, you can of course comfort by touching, patting or shushing if that calms your child.
If you’ve done this for a week with no improvement, then continue to the next week. At the end of the second week, I recommend not going in to flip him over anymore unless he is unable to roll both directions during the day.
Throughout all of this, pay attention to how your baby moves during the day. When she can easily roll both directions during the day, with little frustration, you’ll no longer need to go in at night.
Freedom of Movement and Rolling During Day
During the day, be sure to give him plenty of time to move around and practice on the floor. The more he can practice on his own during the day, the faster he will get there. While I don’t like rushing babies through milestone, I understand how hard it is when sleep is fragmented. Babies are naturally inclined to practice moving as much as they can, and I feel it is best to give them opportunities. When given plenty of space and surface to move, babies get used to their bodies and move as nature intended. This is a big reason why I am not a fan of bouncy seats, jumpers, swings and strollers for daytime sitting. These items are confining, and in the end, may inhibit a child’s ability to get comfortable in his body.
When Will It Stop?
Once you notice that he can roll both directions during the day, let him flip back over on his own at night. If he has already learned independent sleep skills and can put himself to sleep at bedtime, he should easily go back to sleeping a solid 11-12-hour night after a week or two of needing assistance at night.
If anytime during those two weeks, he masters rolling both directions, and ends up sleeping peacefully on his tummy, don’t move him. Silently congratulate him and let him be. That’s one milestone accomplished. According to the AAP, babies are safe to sleep on their tummies if they have good head and neck control and can roll both directions.
What Helped Your Baby?
How did you get through this milestone? I’m always interested in hearing what works for families. If I can help in any way, I’d love to. I’m here for questions, or if you’re struggling with a baby who’s not sleeping through the night, email me or reach out for a call to talk about it.
Kim Rogers, M.A., is a certified infant and child sleep consultant. She has additional training in infant mental health from the hospital for sick children and maternal mental health from postpartum support international. Kim works with families in a one-on-one, highly supportive way to help them get the sleep they need.