The Newborn Curl - Is Your Newborn Rolling Already?

developmental milestones growth and development newborn curl rolling swaddles swaddling Jun 30, 2022
The Newborn Curl - Is Your Newborn Rolling Already?

Rolling is such an exciting developmental milestone for your baby! But, it can also be a bit of a back-and-forth game for parents who are waking up in fear 1 million times a night to roll their baby back over onto their back. Knowing the basics of baby sleep is a complete game-changer for parents, especially in the newborn phase; and knowing how to handle various rolling scenarios is one of the most important!

The AAP recommends always putting your baby down for sleep on their back [1], so when your baby starts to roll it can be confusing to know what to do when your baby ends up on their tummy to sleep. This can seem especially concerning for parents when it’s their newborn doing the rolling. 

If your newborn does seem to be able to roll, this is actually highly unlikely and most likely an involuntary reflex called the “newborn curl.” 

If you’re interested in learning everything you need to know to completely master newborn and baby sleep, make sure to check out my Ultimate Baby Sleep Bundle! This step-by-step guide covers essential information through the first 18 months of life.


What is the Newborn Curl and When Does it Occur?

While your baby’s sleep position is highly important and necessary to pay attention to (in order to reduce the risk of SIDS) [2], your newborn curling up into the fetal position on their side during sleep is normal.

They’ve just spent months in the womb curled up in this position, so this is simply a reflex. Your newborn baby being able to roll over onto their tummy on their own would be unusual [3]! Most babies grow out of the “newborn curl” within the first few weeks of their life, so just continue placing them to sleep on their back (as the AAP recommends), and always check with your pediatrician if you have concerns.

What to Do When Your Baby Starts Rolling 

If your baby is out of the newborn phase, and rolling onto their side or tummy is no longer an involuntary movement (they are physically trying to get into this position), there’s no need to keep waking up continuously throughout the night to keep rolling them back onto their backs. We all need rest and getting up a million times a night just isn’t feasible (or necessary!). BUT there are some safety components you need to keep in mind.

Once your baby has learned to roll from their back to their belly on their own, it’s ok to let them sleep in that position if they’ve gotten there 100% on their own (AND they’re NOT swaddled) - even if they only are rolling one way [4]. If this time has come for you, here are some things you can do to keep your baby safe and happy during nighttime sleep:

  1. Immediately stop using the swaddle (if your baby is still using one). 

The safest, most conservative time to remove the swaddle is by 8 weeks old or when you first see signs of rolling, whichever comes first! This is to avoid learning that a swaddled baby can roll in the middle of the night. Some subtle signs that your baby may be beginning to attempt to roll soon could include some or all of the following:

  1. Lifting their head and shoulders noticeably more during tummy time
  2. Rolling onto their shoulders or side
  3. Kicking their legs and scooting in a circle when on their back
  4. Increased leg and hip strength, such as rolling the hips from side to side and using the legs to lift the hips up

Many parents choose to continue using the swaddle beyond this point because their baby still has the “startle reflex,” but this is only safe IF your baby shows absolutely no signs of rolling AND you are supervising their sleep. If your baby does still have the reflex but it’s time to transition out of the swaddle, you have three options:

  1. Cold turkey. Stop swaddling your baby and put your baby straight into a sleep sack. It’s true that the first few nights may be rough, but after a few days of consistency, your little one will adjust! 
  2. One arm out. Start transitioning out of the swaddle starting with just one arm out. Practice this for a few days, and then switch to both arms out of the swaddle. After swaddling with both arms out for a few days, you can switch to a sleep sack.
  3. Transitional swaddle. Transitional swaddles allow the use of both of your baby’s arms, so they are roll-safe.

2. Daytime practice. 

Most babies learn to roll from their back to their belly before they’re able to roll from their belly to their back, so practicing rolling both ways with your baby during the day is so important! And if your baby hates tummy time, the answer [unfortunately] is LOTS of tummy time. It can be difficult to implement this, but remember, babies get used to what they’re introduced to. It just comes down to consistent practice. Start out slowly, with just a minute (or even less) at a time, 5-7 times throughout the day. Then, hey! Suddenly you’ve done 5 minutes of tummy time that day. Keep working your way up so that you are consistently doing a combined 30 minutes of tummy time throughout each day.

Plus, tummy time makes tummy sleep easier and safer! Once your baby learns to roll completely independently, tummy time helps your baby get used to (and comfortable) for tummy sleep; Eliminating the need to be constantly waking up in the night to roll them back onto their back. 

Tummy time isn’t only important for tummy sleep though, it also:

  • Encourages independent play,
  • Builds up sleep pressure, and
  • Is important for physical development⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

3. Leave them on their tummy. 

If your baby is able to get onto their tummy completely independently (and is not swaddled!), and they’re not upset once they roll - It’s ok and safe to leave them in that position. 

4. Help them get comfortable. 

If all the above safety measures have been met, but your baby is crying every time they roll onto their tummy, they may just need a little time and comfort from you to get used to it. Try patting, shushing, and gently jiggling your baby’s body to help them get comfortable and even fall asleep on their tummy. And don't underestimate the power of darkness when it comes to helping your little one fall asleep more quickly - I'm talking as close to pitch black as you can get it! If your baby's sleep space is letting any light in, I highly encourage using room-darkening curtains (that link has a 10% off discount already attached to it, so you can save immediately on my favorite curtains!). 

Your baby learning to roll can be overwhelming when it comes to their sleep, but is an important milestone that will lead to so many additional milestones! Just remember to remain consistent and always put them to sleep on their back to start with.

If you find yourself still struggling with your little one’s sleep, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Download one of my comprehensive sleep guides or sign up for my “Office Hours” for some additional support.




[1] [4] 

[2] [3]

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