I received an email from the parents of a 3½ month old daughter who has recently learned how to roll from her back to her tummy. Their “conundrum”, as they put it, was twofold. They were concerned about her sleeping on her tummy, as well as the fact that she would get upset after she rolled from her back to tummy and would then “scream loudly” So,what to do?
Most babies learn to roll around 4 months of age and like everything else there is variability in this milestone. Many babies learn to roll tummy to back first, typically while they are having tummy time. Suddenly you realize that the baby has used their arms to push up and then over onto their back. Watching them do this is fun, as they will often look up with big startled eyes almost as saying, “Wow, this is like an amusement park ride!”, while other babies will let out a shriek and start to cry as they were scared by the whole event. Remember we are all different and some of us (me) like roller coasters that go upside down and backwards and others (one of my children) would still rather give up a week’s allowance than get on a ride like that.
There are also babies, like the one in question, who learn to roll from their back to tummy first. This often occurs at night and causes a lot of concern, as all parents hear from the beginning, put your baby “back to sleep”. But, even when sleep positioners were being used (they are no longer recommended), many an infant would figure out how to roll from their back to get all cozy and sleep on their tummy.
Once your baby has achieved this milestone on their own, you cannot keep them from becoming a tummy sleeper. It is important that you still put the baby to bed on their back, but after that your baby will begin to find their own sleep position which many times is at the opposite end of the crib and may be on their tummy.
Trying to be a vigilant parent who turns the baby back over is an exercise in futility as they have a mind of their own and will just flip over again, which is not as cute at 3 am. . You do not need a video monitor or check on your baby every 10 minutes to see if they have rolled during the night. As an infant has learned to roll it is also assumed that they will turn their head to clear their nose and mouth and the risk of SIDS decreases.
Now, in the case of the baby in the email, she loved to flip from back to tummy, but then it would make her upset and she would scream. Every time the parents went in there and turned her over and settled her again on her back, she would flip over to her tummy again, and the screaming would re-start. In this case, I think you have to let your baby fuss (scream loudly) for a few minutes to see if they will either roll back over or fall to sleep again.
It is so hard to hear your baby so upset, but she got herself in this mess (first of many) and so it is the beginning of figuring out how to handle it. She will either cry or roll, and you can flip a coin to see which comes first. After she has cried for 5 – 10 minutes I would go back in the room, try to soothe her while she is on her tummy (remember she rolled there) and then see if she will calm down and go back to sleep. This is going to take patience and time and some sleep deprivation (which you had hoped was past I am sure), as she learns to self-console again after rolling over. The good news is that she has achieved an important developmental milestone with rolling over.
Lastly, once your baby is rolling remember never to leave them unattended on the bed, changing table, couch etc. I call this 4–6 month old a “floor baby” as it is best to leave them on the floor on a blanket while you run to get a diaper or answer the phone etc. Many a baby, including my own, has rolled right off that bed to the floor, usually without sustaining any injury but causing a lot of parental worry and guilt. That experience must be like a free fall ride at Six Flags!
That's your daily dose for today. We'll chat again tomorrow.