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DR LIN DAY explains how baby learns to roll over, and the importance of tummy time.

Rolling over is an extremely important milestone in your baby’s development, and the starting point for all other balance skills including sitting up and crawling. Rolling over from front to back usually occurs at about 3 to 4 months old. Rolling over from back to front and vice versa is usually achieved at about 6 months old, and sometimes sooner. However, parents shouldn’t worry if rolling over is
achieved later—all babies are different. The ability to roll over depends on upper-body strength (neck, shoulders, arms and chest) and plenty of opportunities for unrestricted movement and tummy time.

Babies who are given plenty of tummy time tend to roll over sooner than babies who lie predominantly on their backs during daytime waking hours. Although babies must always sleep on their backs, rolling over from back to front may be achieved before front to back. The most important factor is to ensure baby doesn’t get tangled
in layers of bedding.
Bigger babies can take longer to roll over than smaller babies. Premature babies may reach the milestone later than babies born at full term. Babies with physical impairments may not follow the normal developmental sequence; they may already be working with a physical or occupational therapist to help them achieve developmental milestones. Any precautions or specific instructions that have been suggested should be followed.

The following can help your baby roll over:
• Plenty of tummy time during supervised waking hours will strengthen your baby’s upper-body muscles in preparation for rolling over.
• Rolling over can be encouraged through play. If a toy or rattle is wriggled or shaken to one side, your baby may roll over to get it.
• Put your baby’s arms and legs into the correct position (one arm and shoulder tucked under the body, the other knee bent) and gently roll him over. He will soon get the idea and attempt to roll over on his own.
• Sing “Rock-a-bye-Baby” and gently rock your baby before rolling him over.
• Play peek-a-boo on one side of your baby to encourage him to roll toward you.
• Make rolling over an enjoyable activity.If your baby seems uncomfortable, try again when he’s rested and ready to play. Some babies find it easier to roll over when their nappies are removed.

Rolling over enables babies to get to interesting toys and objects, but parents should be on the lookout for hazards.
If your baby isn’t rolling over by 12 months of age, see your healthcare professional.

Tummy time is an essential aspect of development from birth. It promotes:
• Healthy development of the central nervous system and brain
• Strong neck, back and upper-body muscles
• Balance, co-ordination, stability and postural skills
• Flat hand development, which increases precision finger and thumb movements
• Rolling over
• Visual development
• Crawling—an essential developmental milestone not to be missed

If your baby finds being on his tummy physically uncomfortable, introduce tummy time gradually: two or three times a day for a few minutes. It will eventually become part of your baby’s daily routine and he will learn, play and practise essential head-control movements in this position. Make sure your baby is safe and attended.

• Keep your baby company on the floor.
• Coo, sing or make funny sounds to encourage him to lift his head.
• Roll up a towel and place it under your baby’s chest. Extend your baby’s arms forward over the towel. This supported position allows your baby to lift his head and look around, which improves focusing ability and strengthens neck muscles.
• Place your baby on his back. Slowly pull your baby up to a sitting position (hold your baby under his arms). Hold him there for a few seconds and then ease him back down again.
• Place a safety mirror or favourite toy in front of your baby and draw his attention to it. The object will encourage your baby to lift his head to get a better look.
• Shake a rattle or bell to one side of your baby to encourage him to turn toward the sound.
• Encourage creeping movements by placing interesting toys out of reach.
• Lie on your back and put your baby on your tummy or chest. Say your baby’s name to encourage him to raise his head to get a better look at you.
• Place your baby on his tummy across one arm. Your baby’s head will rest in the crook of your arm, but his legs will dangle free. Rock your baby in this position.
• Place your baby across your legs and pat his back. Patting will encourage your baby to lift his head and straighten his legs.
• Place your baby on your lap facing your knees. Draw up your knees so that he can see what’s going on. He’ll probably love the new view.
• Put your baby on the edge of the bed and sit on the floor with your face next to his. From this position, you can interact and play together.
• Put your baby on his tummy over a beach- or gym ball, and hold him firmly while you gently rock the ball back and forth. Your baby will learn to shift his body weight, which improves balance and co-ordination.
• Roll a ball over your baby’s back, legs and arms. It’s a great way to stimulate his skin and to relieve tension.
• Place a ball in front of your baby, within easy reach. As soon as he touches the ball, it will roll away. Your baby will either ‘swim’ on his tummy or lift himself up on his forearms in an attempt to reach it.
• Exercise or massage your baby while he lies on his tummy.
• When your baby can sit up unaided, place an interesting toy in front of him. He may end up on his tummy when he tries to grab it. In this position, he may make crawling movements, which is good for his brain development.
• Avoid putting your baby in a recliner or restraining device unless absolutely necessary. Your baby needs to be able to move and co-ordinate his movements without restriction.

Spending time with your baby and giving plenty of praise and encouragement will soon make tummy time a pleasurable habit. Tummy time is an essential aspect of development because it leads to crawling.
Crawling fires groups of neurons (brain cells) in different parts of the cortex responsible for visual processing, sensory perception, conscious planning and prediction. It also activates eye teaming, a crucial skill in learning to read.
Crawling is a key period in your baby’s physical and intellectual development, and it takes only a few minutes of daily tummy time to start seeing results. Babies who spend most of their waking hours on their backs may experience delays in developmental milestone.

All credit to, and with permission from Dr Lin Day, founder of the Baby Sensory, Toddler Sense and Baby Sensory Foundations (www.babysensory.com). Roll Over from Baby Sensory ©2011 (updated January 2018); Tummy Time from Baby Sensory ©2011 (updated January 2018)

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