Infant Development: How to Teach a Baby To Roll Over: 11 Tips from an Occupational Therapist

by | Jun 26, 2021

As parents, it is common to be concerned about making sure that your infant reaches their next developmental milestone ‘on time’. For an infant, being able to roll over is the first of many important physical milestones to reach.

Think of a baby’s milestones as building blocks. Once they accomplish one developmental milestone, they are building up to get ready for the next. 

Rolling over from back to belly and belly to back is the start of their physical development where the will start learning to scoot, crawl, and get busy playing.

It is important to work with your baby and make sure he or she is developing their gross motor skills and strength on these significant milestones.

When discussing a baby’s gross motor milestones, you may be wondering: 

  • When should the baby start to roll over?
  • When should I teach the baby to roll over?
  • How do I teach a baby to roll from belly to back and back to belly?

Those are all really great questions that many parents ask. I hope to answer those questions for you as well as provide some tips and activities to help get your baby learn to roll over. 

Let’s get rolling!

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Early Infant Gross Motor Milestone: Rolling Over

There are two different types of rolling: belly to back and back to belly. Usually babies will start rolling over from belly to back first because they are able to use their arms to help.

After your baby master’s belly to back rolling over, they usually start to roll over from back to belly a few weeks or a month after. This is because they have worked hard on gaining lots of strength when first learning to roll over.

Rolling over is one of your baby’s first physical developmental milestones which will be a precursor for them learning to crawl, scoot, and play.

When should a baby start to roll over?

Infants should start rolling over from belly to back anywhere from 3-5 months and back to belly around 4-7 months of age. 

The rolling over milestone can be reached earlier or later just depending on your baby, how much tummy time they are given, as well as several other different environmental factors. 

While laying on their back, your baby will start tracking toys with their eyes. Gradually, their whole head will follow, as will their shoulders, belly, and finally their hips as they build strength.

This motion will move them into a side lying position. Eventually, as your baby gains strength they will be able to move over the shoulder and turn onto their belly.  

Tips and Activities to Get Your Baby to Roll Over:

Rolling over can be scary especially for the first few times. By starting early, your baby gets used to the motor pattern necessary to complete this skill.

Several important muscle groups are required in order for your baby to have the strength to roll over. The activities below will help to strengthen these muscles, as well as give your baby the practice and muscle memory of rolling.

1. Assist them: You can assist your baby in rolling over as early as 2 weeks old (always check with your pediatrician for your baby specifically). By assisting your baby in rolling over you are helping their body get used to the motion and the different muscles it takes to complete this skill.

As they get older and stronger they will need less and less help. Here are a few tips in assisting your baby to roll over:

  • Use your own hands to roll them over. Straighten the leg on the side that they will be rolling to and fold over the opposite leg over the straight one while bending it (see images below). Gently guide your baby over their hip and onto their tummy. Reposition the baby as needed to keep their hands from getting caught under their body.
  • Gradually decrease the amount of help you give to see if baby will complete the rest of the roll. 

When your baby is older and stronger you can add a rolled up towel under the back and see if the baby can roll the rest of the way.

2. Toy Placement: Keeping your baby engaged and interested in toys is a great way to encourage learning this new skill. Strategic toy placement can help keep your baby roll by encouraging them to look around and moving their head from midline and side to side. This helps with the natural progression of rolling over.  

Your baby is going to be interested in toys that you put around her. Strategically place toys above their head and to the side to get their attention.

3. Lots of tummy time: Tummy time provides lots of strengthening in the neck, trunk, and arms. The first time your baby rolls over from tummy to back will likely be during tummy time. 

Tummy time can be tricky if your baby does not like being on his or her belly. Some great ways to change up tummy time are: 

Wondering how to teach a baby to roll over? Try these 11 tips to teach your baby to roll from tummy to back and back to tummy.
  • Baby wearing is a great way to do tummy time. This allows the baby to be upright looking at their surroundings.
  • Chest to chest time with mom or dad
  • Put your baby on a boppy pillow for elevated tummy time. This encourages your baby to pick up their head and look around.
  • Straight on the floor is a great way to get in tummy time. Scatter a few toys around your baby. Sit on the floor and shake the toy or move it around. This will engage your baby and help her develop tracking skills. 

Increase tummy time gradually as your baby gets older. For newborns, you can start out with just a few minutes for several times a day. Make sure that both you and your baby are awake while doing tummy time.

4. Positioning: Placing your baby in different positions will help work and strengthen different muscle groups. Moving the baby into different positions can also prevent your baby from beginning to be frustrated.

  • Have your baby play in a side-lying position
  • Add a rolled-up blanket under the back if the baby is having a hard time staying on her side
  • Be sure to switch sides

5. Toys: Use developmentally appropriate toys to help engage your baby into wanting to track and grab. 

Wondering how to teach a baby to roll over? Try these 11 tips to teach your baby to roll from tummy to back and back to tummy.
  • Toys that make noise, light up, or have bold patterns are great because they keep babies engaged and interested. 
  • Play gyms with overhead toys are great because your baby is engaging with the toys and working on their reaching skills. They will naturally also kick their legs which helps to engage and strengthen their core.

6. Various Positioning: Allow your baby to have time in different positions, such as back, side, and tummy. Letting our baby lay in different positions helps them to use different muscles and gain more control of their body. 

7. Exercises: Exercises are a great way to play with your baby and also help your baby get stronger.

  • Do baby bicycles with their legs – while doing this also put them into positions where their legs are tucked and lower body is moving differently than upper body.
  • Leg tucks
  • After doing diaper changes would be a great time to do the bicycle and leg tuck exercises because your baby is on their back. Diaper changes are probably pretty frequent around this age so you are able to do the exercises a few times a day and have fun!
  • Prop your baby up in a sitting position while being safely supervised. You can do the toy tracking method while in a sitting position to encourage neck movement. 

8. Carry them in different positions: Different positioning while carrying is just as beneficial as positioning while on the floor.

Some different positions include:

  • Belly or football hold
  • Tucked up with legs bent into their bellies
  • On your shoulder
  • On their side, etc.

9. Encourage segmental movements: Segmental movements are movements that are isolated to moving different body parts separately instead of all together.

With my kids I really liked to put the bracelet rattles on their wrists and ankles. They loved the noises and colors and worked really hard to shake them all around.

10. Have them play with toys at midline: Grab a fun toy and hake or move it from the center of the baby’s body and from each side to the other. Your baby will start to track the toy.

Eventually, your baby will start to roll into a side-lying position. Move the toy up above the baby’s head. This encourages the opposite shoulder to begin to turn over.

At that point, you can give the baby the toy to play with, or if they seem ready, see if you can have them reach for the toy. Gravity can help them get over their hip and shoulder to fully rollover. 

Wondering how to teach a baby to roll over? Try these 11 tips to teach your baby to roll from tummy to back and back to tummy.

11. Celebrate!: I can’t think of a single person that doesn’t enjoy being praised for a job well done and this includes your baby! Every time your baby does something new, get excited even if they didn’t get all the way over or start to get frustrated. 

Some things to note: Try to limit baby holders as much as possible. By that I mean bassinets, bouncy chairs, swings, etc. These types of things limit your baby’s ability to move around freely and gain more control of their body. Allowing your baby to be able to move freely helps them to develop the crucial gross motor skills that it takes to roll over. 


Remember, this milestone is one of the first that your baby will master and build upon. Just like the old saying goes, all good things take time.

With each and every developmental milestone that your baby reaches you will be so proud and excited. As a parent it is so rewarding to see your baby learning, growing, and gaining strength.

I have loved being able to teach my babies how to roll over and build on each milestone, but I know that there can be a lot of outside pressure with other babies reaching milestones before yours.

Just remember that babies are like adults, and each one is different. We all learn and grow at a different pace. Eventually, rolling over will click with your baby.

Take your time and let your baby learn. Work with your baby to help them gain strength and be patient! I hope that you were able to gather some good activities and tips in order to help your baby learn to roll over!

Wondering how to teach a baby to roll over? Try these 11 tips to teach your baby to roll from tummy to back and back to tummy.

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