My baby (just turned four months) has just started rolling from belly to back, but though she tries she can’t quite manage to do back to belly. I think part of the problem is that she doesn’t seem to realize she can bend at the hips and lift her legs in the air. She always sticks them straight out. (When she’s on her belly she often ‘surfs’ on her tummy with both her shoulders and her hips off the ground.)  I’m making a game of lifting her legs during nappy changes when I have to lift them anyway. Is there anything else I can do to encourage her to fold in the middle?    

-Question from a reader in the UK

Congratulations that your baby has begun to master one of the top ten motor milestones for baby’s first year!  Also, congratulations on your awareness of what she is learning and what she needs to learn next.  This is a very important skill for mothers to develop.  You have asked a very important question and we will look at a few important points of how babies learn motor skills as we answer your question.


It is helpful to understand the the motor skill of rolling, which includes both rolling from back to belly and from belly to back, is learned in stages.  At first most babies learn to roll either from back to belly or from belly to back.  Then they practice that skill (which is only half of a full roll) for quite a while.  Later the other piece of the roll is learned.  Some babies learn the second piece sooner and some learn it much later.  With some skilled hands on guidance from a parent, baby may learn the skill more quickly.  At four months of age, your baby is learning the skill of rolling rather quickly.


It is wonderful that you observed that she has the habit of sticking her legs straight out.  Yes, this may be making it difficult to roll from back to belly.  Bringing the legs up and to the side can initiate the movement of rolling.  Ask yourself if you or a caretaker of the baby (such as a nanny or grandparent) puts then baby on her feet at all.  This activity of putting baby on her feet while on your lap, in a jumper, or in an exersaucer teach the baby to straighten her legs.  This is one of the many reasons why it is not encouraged to put baby on her feet until she can stand herself up without your help.  This action of the legs straightening becomes an action that baby learns and when she is on her back she will do what she has learned, straighten her legs.  This does not help her learn to roll now or learn to crawl later.  Remember that she has the rest of her life to stand on her feet, and this time on the floor is important for developing a strong foundation for the development of her skeleton and muscles.


Rather than put baby on her feet, try some playful activities with her that she will enjoy and will facilitate the action of rolling.  Try some developmental activities a few times a day.  Here are a few that we recommend:

1.  While she is on her back, take one leg only and bend it toward her chest while telling her that she can bend her leg.  Then extend her leg down towards straight as your tell her that she can extend her leg.  Alternate between these two actions while telling her she can “bend her leg, and extend her leg.”  Spend more time in the “bend” movement since you want her to learn that action more clearly.  Repeat several time on one leg only and then switch to the other leg.

2.  Take her right leg and right arm up toward the ceiling and gently move them at the same time to the left to initiate the roll.  First go just a little bit, then return.  Then move a bit further and return.  Eventually take her all the way to her belly.  Do this very slowly so she can feel what you are doing.  You are showing her how she can learn to roll herself to her belly.

3.  Roll her onto her side so she feels the place she will move through as she transitions from her back to her belly.

Try these tips for parents at home and let me know how they work with baby!

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