Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'..... How to Cope with the Rolling Phase

fun fact: this video is almost 15 years old...WHAT?!?

fun fact: this video is almost 15 years old...WHAT?!?

Ahhh the dreaded rolling phase. I remember this so well with my second sucked. When my ovaries start twinging and I think I want a third baby - I remember this phase and it snaps me back to reality. As awful and frustrating and stressful as it is, it is very short-lived. In this post, I will give you some helpful instructions about how to cope with the rolling phase as best we can.



How to prevent the rolling phase

There are some ways we can seemingly prevent this phase (or at least, delay it as long as possible so that hopefully by the time the phase hits, baby is efficiently rolling both ways). A few tricks are:

  1. Swaddling baby. Keep your baby swaddled for as long as possible. Until baby is able to roll in the swaddle, you can continue to keep her wrapped up. This often prevents baby from rolling in the crib (ensure that the swaddle is nice and snug as this makes rolling even more difficult).

  2. Merlin's Magic Sleep Suit. I recommend these a lot as I really think they are pure magic. The Sleep Suit is perfect for babies who are unable to be swaddled (babies who are rolling in the swaddle or babies who are busting out of a swaddle even after using The Super Swaddle or a Double Swaddle (Super Swaddle + a velcro swaddle sack)). Also helpful for keeping babies positioned on their back (so not so helpful if your baby is a tummy sleeper who has just begun to flip onto his back). We are able to keep baby in one of these Suits until they are efficiently rolling both ways, and then the transition to a sleepsack is (generally) seamless.

The rolling phase has what?

You've done all you can to prevent this phase from coming (and it is a lot easier to prevent it if baby is a back sleeper, if baby is a tummy sleeper the rolling phase is a lot trickier) but it's now here. So what do you do when baby flips over, gets stuck, and cries? Well, there are a couple of things to try:

  1. The child has just started rolling and it is only occasionally disrupting sleep. Put baby down in the usual position (so on back for a back sleeper, tummy for a tummy sleeper) and leave. If baby rolls over and is upset, always make sure to wait a minimum of 10-15 minutes before deciding if an intervention is required. If after the initial wait baby is very upset (more than just fussing), go to him, flip him, and walk out. This allows the child the opportunity to learn to sleep in the new position and/or roll back himself. You may choose to continue this for as long as it takes or move onto step 2 which is....

  2. The child has been rolling for a while (may be able to roll back), sleep disruption is regular and frequent, and may be doing this for the attention or because it's fun. Put baby to bed in the new position (so on tummy for a back sleeper, on back for a tummy sleeper). If the child gets upset, use whatever method you are comfortable with (see sleep coaching methods here) for as long as it takes until the child has fallen asleep in the new position. Same goes for any nightwakings until midnight. After midnight, if baby is still struggling to sleep, use plan 1 above. This takes the novelty out of rolling and teaches the child to learn to sleep in the new position. After three days, it doesn't matter which way the child sleeps, she is used to both.

  3. The 'One Free Flip' Rule. This is the most direct of the three approaches. For this technique, you put baby down in their usual position (back for a back sleeper, tummy for a tummy sleeper) and leave. If they roll over, you flip them back one time only. After that, it is up to them to either roll back or fall asleep in the new position. You would only use this method for a baby who you know can consistently roll both ways, they just seem to have magically forgotten as soon as they are in their crib.

In addition to following one of the plans above, it is also of pivotal importance to practice practice practice during the day. Practicing rolling front to back and back to front. It is especially important to practice right before sleep times, so incorporate a rolling session into your nap time/bedtime routine so it is fresh in his mind when he goes into his crib.
Making sure baby's bedroom is pitch black is especially important during this rolling phase, as we want to limit distractions. As well, you may want to consider introducing a small lovey (see my favorite product for young babies to the right) at this stage (if you are comfortable with it) as it gives the child something to do with their hands (especially those that were once swaddled and now have a new-found freedom of movement) while they are 'stuck' in their new position. 

Start this rolling plan at bedtime, as the drive to sleep is much higher at night and they are less able to fight us (as sleep will eventually overcome them). Once bedtime is not an issue, naps won't be an issue either. If you are consistent, the process should only take about three days.

Once babies are able to roll freely both ways in their cribs, they become much better sleepers. If we are constantly rolling them back to their preferred position all night long, we are not giving them the opportunity to learn to love different sleeping positions (this is especially important for back sleepers, as the vast majority of back sleepers turn into tummy sleepers, and once they learn to love their tummy, they sleep much better).

Have you gone through the rolling phase? How did it pan out for you? Share your stories below and we can all commiserate together ;)


Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve - a good night's sleep doesn't have to be a dream!