baby laying on her back on a toki mats play mat

Ask An Expert: How to Encourage Baby to Roll With Jennifer Aguillard, PT, PCS

September 12, 2022

Rolling is one of the first significant milestones in your baby’s first year of life not only because it builds necessary pathways in their brain (we’ll elaborate on this!), but also because it marks the beginning of newfound mobility. Although rolling over seems like a fairly simple skill, it’s actually a highly complicated movement that requires both sides of the body to do opposite movements. This coordination strengthens the corpus callosum, the tissues of nerve fibers that divide the two hemispheres of the brain and are responsible for the communication between both sides. Rolling is a building block for other gross motor skills like sitting, reaching, and crawling, and it opens up a whole new world for your little one. If your baby hates tummy time, this can sometimes motivate them to roll from their tummy to their back—surprising them in the process. After discovering this new ability to move their body in the direction their brain is telling them to move, your little one may even stop protesting during floor time. However, if they’re fussing on the floor during tummy time because they’re stuck and frustrated, you can facilitate rolling through various techniques that can help them learn how to roll on their own. 

As part of our Ask An Expert series, we consulted Jennifer Aguillard, a pediatric physical therapist with over 30 years of experience, about the best way to encourage babies to roll. Aguillard is a board-certified pediatric clinical specialist, the owner of Magic Moments Therapy, as well as a mom and a grandma whose passion lies in early intervention to positively change the course of children’s lives. Her Instagram @magicmomentstherapy provides valuable advice to over 36k followers who seek her guidance for reaching gross motor milestones with their babies and children. 

two babies laying on their backs on a toki mats play mat

Q: What age do babies begin to roll?

JA: Babies begin to roll between 3 to 5 months old. Before that, it is more reflexive in nature. It can happen earlier but it's usually a flip over and not a true segmental roll of body parts.

Q: Does it matter which direction my baby rolls first?

JA:  No, it does not matter which way a baby rolls first. Before "back to sleep" [the Back to Sleep campaign backed by the NICHD in 1994], most babies were rolling from tummy to back first. Now, we are sometimes seeing babies roll from back to stomach before tummy to back. Rolling from tummy to back uses very different muscles than the ones used to roll from back to tummy.

Q: When should I be concerned about my baby not rolling?

JA: A parent should be concerned about their baby not rolling if there are no signs of twisting and moving off their tummy or back by 4 to 5 months old.

Q: Why exactly is learning to roll such an important skill?

JA: Rolling is so important because it involves all the trunk muscles: back extensors, abdominals, obliques etc. Moving the trunk muscles preps a baby for sitting, crawling, standing and walking. Without rolling, a baby will not have the skills needed for higher level gross motor skills.

Q: What are some tips for encouraging my baby to roll in both directions?

 JA: One tip for rolling from tummy to back is helping your baby shift their weight back and forth on their elbows. To encourage rolling from back to tummy, you can encourage them to play with their feet to work their lower abdominals. 

a toddler sitting upright and a baby laying on his stomach on a toki mats play mat

We headed over to Aguillard’s Instagram @magicmomentstherapy for her Reels, which demonstrate exactly how to help your baby move in a way that encourages them to roll.

  1. Rolling & Reaching: Here, Aguillard gently helps a baby lift their arm up and down, then across the body to facilitate rolling. She also gently guides the baby’s leg to help make the turn.
  2. Peanut Ball: Moving the “ground” underneath a baby can get them moving the way they need to. The peanut ball helps get trunk elongation on the side the baby is rolling to, and can also help balance out a child who has tightness from torticollis or has preference for using one side over the other.
  3. Crossing Midline: Rolling can be facilitated by head turning while tracking a toy in a rainbow arc overhead.
  4. Hold the Diagonal: Holding a baby in pose between the back and the side will strengthen them and increase a desire to keep going on their own. 
baby laying on his back and holding his feet on a toki mat play mat, while looking up at an older child

Although there’s a range of normal when it comes to all things child development, giving your baby a little extra encouragement to help them reach their gross motor milestones is never a bad idea! By gently guiding them to make these brain-body connections, you help them lay the foundation for more complex gross motor skills, like crawling and walking. Be sure to invest in a soft, comfortable play mat like this one and give your baby plenty of floor time to practice. Before you know it, you’ll be chasing down a speedy toddler who can outmaneuver you at every move!

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Ask An Expert: How to Encourage Baby to Roll With Jennifer Aguillard, PT, PCS

About the Author: Alice

Alice Mendoza is a copywriter and blog writer based in Los Angeles. She began writing for a baby brand while on maternity leave, and realized she had found her niche. Today, she writes exclusively within the baby space, using her BFA in Creative Writing and her own experience as a mother to guide her. When she’s not working, you can find her chasing down her toddler, going on walks around the neighborhood, or watching reality TV.

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