When can a parent expect their baby to start rolling over? It depends on a number of factors, the first being maturity. Babies born prematurely tend to be slightly behind their peers during the first year of their life. If the average baby begins to roll at 4 or 7 months, a baby born prematurely may not begin rolling until sometime after that.
Baby's personality is the second factor. According to Dr. William Sears, pediatrician and author of The Baby Book, babies with mellow personalities tend to be slightly slower in motor development than their more active counterparts.
Because so many factors contribute to the onset of rolling, Dr. Dave Olson, a pediatrician in Michigan, says that parents don't need to be overly consumed with specific timetables. He says the on-the-back sleep guidelines have lead to later rolling over. However, it has also saved thousands of lives, and rolling over later is not a serious enough reason to not put a baby to sleep on its back.
"Infants used to roll over from front to back at about 4 months," Dr. Olson says. "It currently seems more common to see this at 6 months. There are no apparent consequences to this slight delay." If babies aren't rolling over by 12 months, he says this should prompt some additional attention from the pediatrician.
Rolling not only allows a baby increased freedom of movement, but it's also a key step toward sitting and walking. Interestingly enough, rolling also proves that a baby is developing muscle mass—a critical aspect of child development, according to many experts. Rolling over shows that your baby is getting stronger and is becoming more coordinated. These muscles are key in helping them learn to sit, crawl, and do many other activities.
The act of rolling usually begins with gentle rocking movements. If you haven't spent much time around infants, picture a turtle lying on its back. A turtle can move its head, arms and legs (just like a baby) but it doesn't have the ability to roll itself over. As a baby begins to gain strength, however, he or she will begin to raise both the head and chest on a regular basis. Baby will also begin to kick—a necessary step to gaining the leg strength needed in a roll. Perhaps one of the most important factors in a baby gaining the ability to roll is the stomach muscles. The quicker those stomach muscles develop, the faster a baby will be able to roll.
Professionals also state that different types of rolling can develop at different rates depending on some of the factors already outlined. Rolling from front to back, for example, usually occurs before rolling from back to front—that's not to say, however, that a baby is developing incorrectly if the opposite occurs first.
"Kids roll over sooner in life if they spend more time on their stomach," says Dr. Olson."They have a wider group of muscles they can use and develop while in this prone position. On the back, in the supine position, they are a bit like turtles on their backs and can't really exercise the arms and legs against the force of the surface they are on."
Parents can hasten the learning process by helping a baby simulate rolling movements. Since much of the early difficulties associated with rolling involve getting the arms and legs into the correct position (one arm and shoulder tucked under the body, the other arm and leg pushing) parents can gently guide their baby's body through the motion to simulate a roll. It's important that parents make it an enjoyable time. If Baby seems uncomfortable it should be stopped until another time.
Most important, be cautious. Once your baby does learn how to roll, you're going to have to keep a close eye on everything he or she does. Babies can easily roll off a bed or changing table if they're left unsupervised for more than a few moments.
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