We all know that we need to sleep our babies on their backs, as per the SIDs guidelines (https://rednose.org.au/section/safe-sleeping) but what do you do when your baby starts to roll and you find them on their side or their tummy? Babies generally start to roll around 5 to 6 months, but some babies will do it a little earlier. If your baby has been a back sleeper then sometimes they will continue to sleep on their backs and not roll in the cot until they are older. But, there are babies who, as soon as they can move, love to practice that skill anywhere and everywhere!
If your baby has started to roll in their bed then it is very important that you stop swaddling them and move them into a sleeping bag with their arms out. If they are still sleeping in a basinet then it is also a good idea to move them to a larger cot so they have plenty of room around them. It is also a great time to give them some more tummy time so they can practise lifting their heads and develop their strength as this will help with them learn to roll back as well. It is also important not to panic! It is normal development for a baby to start to move themselves around the cot and rolling over is the start of this.
I tell parents that if your baby is rolling properly (that is and not just a random event) then it is okay for them to start to sleep in that position, i.e. on their sides or on their tummy. It is advised to always put your baby into their cot on their backs but if they then roll over to get themselves comfortable, then you should let them do that.
If you happen to find your baby on their tummies in the middle of the night and they are rolling well then I would suggest that, rather than flip them back onto their back only to have them wake up again the next time they roll, start to settle them on their tummies. This way they will get used to rolling and then go back to sleep without needing any assistance from you.
I also suggest removing any top sheets or blankets when your baby starts to roll, so there is no danger of them getting stuck under something. If you are worried about your baby being cold, use the correct TOG weighted sleeping bag for the room temperature. You can also add layers of clothes to your baby to keep them warm if you are concerned.
It is also important to ensure your baby is sleeping on a firm and well-fitted mattress that is flat. Remove any tilts or elevation you may have been using prior to your baby rolling.
Once a baby is strong enough to sleep on their side or tummy, their sleeping can improve. It is rare to continue sleeping on your back as you grow. Babies and toddlers move a lot in their sleep, so you might go into them at one point in the night and they will be one way and the next time you go in, they are completely upside down. This is very common! Some babies will also go through stages when they roll themselves onto the side of the cot with a big bang. This can sometimes wake them up and scare them. If they have woken, just move them back into the centre of the cot and settle them back to sleep. This fierce rolling will settle down eventually.
Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.