Has rolling over started to interrupt your baby’s sleep? Here’s what to do when your baby rolls over in their sleep and cries!
I felt totally unprepared the first time my daughter rolled over in her sleep. First of all, it felt too early!
But the most challenging thing about it was that she could only roll from her back to her front. Once she got there, she was very frustrated that she couldn’t get off her belly.
As you can imagine, she let us know how much she didn’t like being stuck. Just like that, our sweet, safe, swaddled baby was rolling over in her sleep and waking up crying at nap time and for a few nights.
If your baby rolls over in their sleep and cries, don’t fret! I’m here to give you some pointers on the best and safest ways to handle your baby rolling over in the crib.
Let me help you get through this rough patch of your baby rolling over in sleep and get you back to restful nights.
What if My Baby Rolls onto Their Tummy While Sleeping?
As new parents, learning the typical timelines for each developmental milestone helps us prepare and learn what to expect. But the reality is, young babies will develop in their own time!
Infants are able to roll over as soon as their neck and core are strong enough. For many babies, this happens between 2-4 months.
Whether your baby rolls over early, late, or “right on time,” rolling is not something to be scared of! It’s a natural part of your baby’s development.
However, you will need to make some changes to your baby’s sleeping environment to ensure their safety and comfort.
The most important part of keeping your baby safe when they roll in their sleep is to know that they’re capable of rolling in the first place.
You might see your baby roll over for the first time while they are playing or doing tummy time.
While it is possible for their first roll to happen while they’re asleep in their crib, it’s more likely that they’ll do it for the first time when they’re alert and active.
You might not see your baby roll again for weeks after that. However, just knowing that they’ve done it before will help you make changes to ensure their safety if they roll over in their sleep.
How to Keep Your Baby Safe When They Roll Over in Their Sleep
As an infant sleep consultant, following safe sleep guidelines is my first priority. I always encourage my clients to follow the ABCs of safe sleep.
I also want to help foster your baby’s independence and development! That means embracing the roll, even when your baby rolls over in their sleep and ends up face down, in a very different position than you’re used to.
It might feel scary the first time your baby rolls onto their stomach while they’re sleeping, especially after all of the “back is best!” talk.
Let’s talk about some important things you can do to reduce any harm to your baby when they roll over in their sleep.
Safe Sleep Surfaces Only
If you’ve been following my advice since you first brought your baby home, chances are you’re following safe sleep practices.
As a reminder, your baby’s sleep surface should be firm, flat, and safely enclosed.
It is especially important once your baby starts rolling that you don’t let them fall asleep in an inclined position (like an unbuckled car seat or a recalled Rock N Play).
And if your baby is sleeping in a bassinet and starts rolling, it means they’re too big for the bassinet and it’s time to transition them to a crib.
Say Goodbye to the Swaddle
As soon as you see your baby roll for the first time, it’s time to transition them out of a swaddle. Even if your baby starts to show signs of rolling, you should transition them out of the swaddle.
It’s very important that your baby’s arms and hands are free if they roll onto their stomach while sleeping. They’ll need their arms free to roll back, or to lift their head and move it to the side to breathe.
I love using sleep sacks as part of the bedtime routine and to help cue to your baby that sleep is coming. You can transition from a swaddle into a sleep sack that frees up your baby’s arms.
Keep the Sleep Area Free of Bumpers and Bedding
Now that your baby can move around in their crib more easily, any soft items in their crib pose an even greater suffocation risk.
Make sure there are no bumpers or loose blankets in the crib with your sleeping baby. There shouldn’t be any loose bedding in your baby’s crib. You can use wearable blankets to keep your baby warm at night.
Continue to Put Baby to Sleep on Their Back
Keep putting your baby down for sleep on their back, even once they can roll over.
If your baby is determined to roll over, they will, and that’s okay. But you should always set them down on their back up until they’re 12 months of age, since it’s been determined to be the safest sleep position for young infants.
Once my daughter learned that she loved being a tummy sleeper, she would flop over as soon as we laid her in the crib. Still, we continued to lay her down on her back every single time to help reduce the risk of SIDS.
How Do I Stop My Baby From Rolling Over in His Sleep?
When your sleeping baby rolls over onto their stomach, it can startle them awake. It’s not surprising that the first handful of times they roll in their sleep, they’ll probably be upset about it.
You might be wondering: what can I do if my baby rolls over in the middle of the night while they’re sleeping and cries?
As tempting as it may be to try to stop your baby from rolling at all, it’s important for their development and safety that you don’t try to stop them.
Do not attempt to stop your rolling baby by swaddling them, strapping them down, or through other anti-roll measures. These anti-roll or sleep positioner products are not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Attempting to stop their free movement while they sleep can be dangerous and is not worth the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
All people learn how to roll over eventually, and you need to let it happen for your baby as soon as it’s natural to them.
If they have enough strength to roll over, they have enough strength to turn their head to breathe, even when laying face down.
Using the Merlin Sleep Suit
Some parents transition to the Merlin Magic Sleepsuit when their baby starts to roll and can’t settle on their belly.
The problem with this is it can be really difficult to transition out of the Merlin.
Once your baby can roll in the Merlin sleep suit, you definitely need to drop it. It’s not safe to have baby rolling in that suit.
Sleep Training When Your Baby Rolls Over in Their Sleep and Cries
Even though you can’t stop your baby from rolling over at night, you can help them get used to their new skill and get back to sleep.
When your baby is first learning to roll, they’re more likely to wake up and cry when they do it, causing a bit of a sleep regression. You can definitely go into their room, comfort them, and place them on their back again.
But I’m sure you don’t want to play “flip the baby” all night! If your sleeping baby is rolling over and waking up crying more than once during the night, causing everyone sleepless nights, it might be time for a more structured response.
Any time your baby slips out of of independent sleep habits into disrupted sleep—due to natural developments or common sleep regressions—it’s helpful to incorporate sleep training to get them back on track.
This can be a formal sleep training method, or using gentle methods to soothe them while they are lying in their new position.
I typically recommend using a sleep training method (or modified method) with your baby when they learn to roll over.
Your goal with sleep training is to help your baby find a comfortable sleep position on their own, where they can self-soothe to sleep. Your periodic presence in their room can help reassure your baby that even though they’ve rolled over, they can still get back to sleep.
If you are using a method that doesn’t involve picking your baby up, it’s totally fine to leave your baby on their tummy and comfort them in that position.
Are Sleep Sacks Safe for Babies Who Can Roll Over?
It is completely safe to put your baby in a sleep sack once they start rolling onto their stomach. A sleep sack keeps their arms free so they can use their arms to flip back over, or reposition themselves so they can breathe.
A sleep sack is also a wearable blanket, so you don’t have to worry about any loose objects covering baby’s face while they sleep.
See some of the best baby sleep sacks in this list!
Is it Okay for Babies to Roll in their Sleep on Their Stomach?
The good news is if your baby is rolling over in their sleep and ends up face down, it is perfectly okay to let them sleep on their stomach.
I know it might feel strange, especially after so many months of carefully keeping your baby on their back to sleep!
The reality is, once your baby is strong enough to roll over onto their stomach, they are also strong enough to lift their head and move it to the side to breathe.
You should always put your baby down to sleep on their back through their first year of life. However, with the strength of rolling comes an opportunity for your baby to choose the most comfortable sleep position for themselves!
In the end, your baby rolling over in their sleep is one of the first ways they can assert their independence.
If your baby rolls over in their sleep and cries, I promise it’s just a temporary setback. Practice tummy time during the day (even a few minutes of tummy time here and there can help) and pretty soon they’ll be able to flip themselves back over the other way as well!
Double check with your healthcare provider if you have any safety concerns about your baby’s sleep positioning.
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Friday 12th of August 2022
Thanks so much for the article. I am going through this same thing. My daughter is 6 months old and just recently transitioned to her crib. However, as soon as we did that now she is wanting to roll over during nap time or bedtime. She is able to roll front to back all alone, but when she does that during sleep she wakes herself up screaming. I am so lost at what to do. We have been trying sleep training but nothing seems to help. We can’t figure out if this is a sleep regression, teething or something we are doing wrong. Any advice?
Friday 12th of August 2022
A lot is going on for them at 6 months old!
It could be due to all the new milestones she is meeting. Make sure to give her TONS of practice during the day and try not to flip her when she does roll. She'll learn how to sleep comfortably eventually.
Double check that her sleep schedule is in line with a 6-month old's as well: https://thepostpartumparty.com/wake-time-6-month-old/
It sounds like a regression due to all the new skills, but make sure you are consistent in your approach if you are sleep training through it!
Hope that helps, Amy
Saturday 23rd of July 2022
Thanks for this article. This is exactly our situation. We were planning to sleep train but thought we had better wait until the regression passed. Are you saying it's actually a good idea to sleep train while in the midst of the regression? Our baby can only roll from back to tummy and not yet from tummy to back. He was sleeping through the night before this rolling caused all the sleep disruptions. He is 4 months.
Monday 25th of July 2022
Yes, if it's the 4-month sleep regression I would sleep train through it but know that it may take extra time! Since babies' sleep cycles change around 4 months (which is what causes the regression) you may as well teach them the new sleep habits!
Do tons of tummy time during the day so he can practice rolling both ways!
Hope that helps! Amy