Tummy Time and Rolling with Anna Marshall, PT, DPT


Is your baby waking up because they rolled onto their belly at night? If they know how to push up and roll from belly to back during the day it will greatly increase their chances of doing so at night. So, just when you thought they have had enough tummy time, it’s time to put them back on their belly for play! True that many babies don’t love tummy time, but let’s shake that up. Here are some tips for tummy time and then weight shifting (moving weight from side to side) while on their belly to get them closer to rolling to their back so they can get to sleep.

A few things to remember:

  • Babies start to roll from belly to back between 2 and 5 months old. They may do it once by accident and then not do it again for a while.
  • Having good head control while on belly, is top priority, even before rolling.
  • Always supervise your baby during time spent on his/her belly.

Getting to a happy place in tummy time:

  • It doesn’t have to be a long time all at once. Start with a few minutes, maybe even one minute. Try again an hour later. Frequent short periods of tummy time can help a baby get used to being on their belly. Use positive messages and try to keep it upbeat.
  • Be as present as possible with your baby while they do tummy time. As their parent and caregiver they are so focused on you. If you are interacting with them, tummy time becomes more rewarding for both of you. Lay beside them or in front of them and chat, read a book or make funny faces. If your body needs a break from that position, place a mirror, a propped book or other picture in front of them.
  • Focus on midline first! Having the ability to hold the head up and in the middle is necessary before working on turning the head and rolling. The middle is our base. We need a stable base from which to move. Before 3 months you will see a lot of asymmetry and lifting with the head turned to the side. But around 3 months you should start to see baby lift head more symmetrically and hold it in the middle.
  • If flat on the floor is too tricky for baby, hold them on your chest while you lay on your back or propped against a pillow for a small incline.

Getting ready to roll:

  • While you are laying down or leaning back in a chair, have baby lay on your chest. Sing a song or chant a rhyme while gently and slowly rocking side to side. Watch that baby doesn’t slide off your chest. This rocking stimulates baby’s inner ear and their drive to lift their head to vertical – a key skill. It also helps them practice weight shifting or increasing how much weight is over one side of their body and freeing up the opposite side.
  • Once they can keep their head up and in the middle for a sustained time (~20-30 seconds) you can start moving a toy to the side and watch them follow it with their eyes. The eyes are how babies first “reach” for a toy. Babies reach with their eyes and their whole body follows with a weight shift to the same side. If that weight shift is far enough we will get a ROLL!
  • Try small reaches with hands. Place a toy a few inches from baby’s hand and encourage them to reach it. Rattle it and then wait for baby to move to get the rattle. This will help your baby practice shifting their weight to free a hand to reach.
  • Help baby narrow their base of support to be ready to roll. If knees are out wide, gently straighten them out. Gently bring baby’s elbows in from a wide position to underneath their shoulders. This way their elbows and knees won’t block them from rolling over.