Baby Rolling and Waking? Here’s What To Do

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Why Do Babies Roll at Night? 

Is your baby rolling over and waking up in their sleep? Why is it happening, and what can you do? Babies need to move! It’s as simple as that.

As babies learn new skills, their bodies instinctively want to practice their moves. And when babies have a firm, flat surface and no distractions (think mattress in the night), they can’t help but move.

This means that as your baby starts to roll, they’ll most likely be rolling over and waking up! At the very least, they’ll roll and move in their sleep. It’s not uncommon for four-to-six-month-old babies to roll over and wake up at night and during their naps. If your baby startles awake when they roll over to a new position, they may cry and need you to come and flip them back over.

Stop Swaddling at First Signs of Rolling

The first thing to do when babies show signs of rolling is to stop the swaddle or Magic Merlin if you’re still using one. Instead, use a transition swaddle or sleep sack.

I recommend the Zippadee Zip as a transition swaddle. It 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 helps control 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?

Keep Baby Safe: Don’t Use Positioners

The AAP and the FDA warn against the use of positioners. These are products like pillows, wedges, and straps with attachments. Babies stay in one place in the crib with these, but they are dangerous.

Until babies can roll back to front and front to back, their neck muscles aren’t well developed. They could turn their head toward a wedge, pillow, or positioner and not have the neck strength to turn back. This can cause suffocation.

Most of these products are no longer on the market, but some may still be circulating. Products like the Dock a Tot have been recalled because they are unsafe for babies who are beginning to roll. Wedges and positioners aren’t safe, either.

There is one product, the SNOO Smart Sleeper, a bassinet with a built-in swaddle positioner that is safe and FDA-approved. It was invented by Dr. Harvey Karp, a world-renowned pediatrician.

The SNOO is a responsive bassinet. It “hears” crying and automatically responds with gradually stronger white noise and rocking motion to soothe fussing. The SNOO’s built-in swaddle prevents risky rolling, making it the only sleep solution that keeps your baby safely on their back.

When Babies Start Moving: What To Do? 

There comes a point in time when babies simply just want to move, and you’ll know when that is. Your baby will want to put their hands in their mouth. This is a good thing. They instinctively self-settle this way. Your baby will want to turn over. They can’t help it. They won’t be happy, swaddled, and confined. I always say that babies are little movers and shakers. As humans, we are meant to move.

The SNOO can still be useful when your baby wants to move more. Many parents use it from newborn to six months. When babies want to move more or have access to their hands, you can take their arms out of the Snoo swaddle and simply keep it around their midsection. Or you can use the built-in Snoo swaddle in conjunction with a Zippadee Zip transition swaddle.

The SNOO has become so useful that it can easily be re-sold. You can get a brand new SNOO or a Certified Pre-Loved SNOO for 20% OFF, or you can rent your SNOO for a few dollars a day.

When your baby wants to move even more, you’ll know. When your child is around six months old, or when they want to roll in both directions or get into a crawl position, you can wean from the SNOO swaddle and motion.

This is the beauty of the SNOO design. It is designed to help you do this naturally. If you’re putting your child into the SNOO awake (instead of nursing to sleep, bouncing to sleep, rocking to sleep, etc.), your child will have an easier time finding their way to sleep when you stop the motion of the SNOO.

When Rolling Causes 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 five or six months before they can roll from back to tummy.

This milestone might take you by surprise at bedtime or in the middle of the night. Many five-to-six-month-olds can flip from tummy to back during the day. But at night, it’s a different story. They might wake up on their tummy and cry for you to flip them back over.

If they’re flipping over at night and mid-nap too, you may be more exhausted than ever. Almost as soon as you flip them back 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.

When And How To Flip Baby Back Over

If your child has rolled over and seems stuck, I recommend going in and flipping back over. If your baby slept through the night before starting to roll, wait 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 them over. Do this at night for a week.

If your baby cries when they wake on their tummy, flip them back over. Try to comfort by touching, patting, or shushing.

If you’ve done this for a week with no improvement, continue to the next week. At the end of the second week, only assist at night if they can’t roll during the day.

Daytime Movement

During the day, be sure to give them plenty of time to move around and practice on the floor. The more they can practice on their own during the day, the faster they will get there. While I don’t like rushing babies through milestones, I know it’s hard when babies aren’t sleeping.

Babies instinctively practice moving as much as they can, especially at night. It is best to give them plenty of opportunities to move, both day and night. 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 move and get comfortable in their body.

How Long Does It Take Babies To Learn To Roll At Night?

Once you notice that they can roll in both directions during the day, let them flip back over on their own at night. They can become reliant on you, flipping them back over at night, even though they can roll during the day. So, if you sense this is happening, let them roll on their own at night. You can still go into your child’s room and supervise them during this process. Or, you can supervise them by watching a baby monitor.

This way, you can make sure that your child is in a safe sleeping position. When your child easily rolls in both directions at night, you’ll no longer need to supervise.

When Is Tummy Sleep OK?

If, anytime during those two weeks, they master rolling in both directions, don’t move them. It’s ok to let them sleep on their tummy. Silently congratulate them (and yourself!), and let them be. That’s one milestone accomplished. The AAP says that babies who can roll in both directions are safe to sleep on their tummies.

Don’t Suffer. Get Help If You Need It!

Baby sleep is hard! Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help getting past this milestone. If I can help in any way, I’d love to talk. If you’re struggling with a baby who’s not sleeping through the night, reach out for a call, and let’s talk about it.

I hope you enjoy this blog post. If you want me to help with your child’s sleep, just book a call. 

Kim Rogers, Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Written by Kim Rogers

Kim Rogers, M.A., is an advocate for children's mental health, maternal mental health, secure attachment, and healthy family systems. She has a certificate in Infant Mental Health from IMPH and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. She has completed the 2020 MOM Project for Maternal Mental Health. Kim is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and the founder of Sleeping Well Consulting. Kim works one-on-one with families as a sleep coach and parent coach. Book a Complimentary Discovery Call Today

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