When is it Safe For a Baby to Sleep On Their Tummy?

developmental milestones rolling tummy sleep tummy time Jan 30, 2023
When is it Safe For a Baby to Sleep On Their Tummy?

The AAP advises placing your baby to sleep on their back for every sleep (including naps) until they are at least 12 months of age [1]. But, when your baby begins to roll, it can become a back-and-forth game for parents who are waking up in fear a million times a night to roll their baby back over to the supine position. This can be especially frustrating for parents of babies who were previously sleeping through the night and are suddenly up all night rolling…

The good news is, if your baby is not swaddled and is able to roll onto their tummy completely on their own in the night, it’s okay to leave them! However, it is important to continue placing them on their back for sleep, even if it’s likely that they’ll just roll over soon after. 

Occasionally, your baby may be too tired or not feeling well enough to roll as they normally would, so it’s best to leave them on their back and let them make the decision to roll or not! There may be instances, though, when your baby rolls onto their tummy on their own, but then gets stuck and is upset, needing you to help them back onto their back or get comfortable. If you find yourself here, here’s what you can do to help your baby sleep better (and safely!). 

If your little one is having night wakings and you’re at a loss for why and how to help get them sleeping 10-12 hours a night independently, check out my Mastering Baby Sleep 101 sleep guide!

4 Things to do When Your Baby Starts to Roll to Their Tummy While Sleeping

  1. Remove Swaddle. 

The number one thing you want to do when your baby begins rolling onto their tummy (or begins showing signs of rolling), is to immediately stop using a swaddle (and check out this reel from my Instagram that talks about subtle signs of rolling - make sure to read the caption, too!).

Transitioning out of the swaddle can be a tough phase with lots of startling awake, but just know that it doesn’t last forever and babies WILL get used to sleeping without a swaddle over time. 

Here are a few options for leaving it behind: 

  • You can try stopping cold turkey. Just remove the swaddle and stick with it! It will be tough for a few days to a week or so, but sticking with it leads to success more quickly. 
  • Try keeping one arm out of the swaddle for several days, then move toward having both arms out.
  • Try a transitional swaddle that is safe for rolling and follow the recommendations from the manufacturer on age, height, and weight recommendations. 

2. Daytime Practice. 

Since most babies learn to roll from their back to their belly before they’re able to roll from their belly to their back, practicing rolling both ways with your baby during the day is so important! During your baby's wake windows, spend lots of time practicing and encouraging tummy time so your baby can master rolling more quickly. You can watch this reel for some ideas on tummy time (especially if your little one doesn’t like it).

3. Leave on Tummy.

Rolling your baby back onto their back all night is not always feasible, so if they can roll completely independently and are not swaddled or upset, you can leave them on their tummy!

4. Help Comfort. 

If all the above safety measures are met, but your baby is crying every time they roll to their tummy, they may just need a little time & comfort to get used to it. You can try patting, shushing, and gently jiggling your baby's body to help them get comfortable and fall asleep on their tummy.

And remember, the most important element here is safety. Make sure your little one has a safe sleep space according to the AAP’s updated 2022 safe sleep recommendations. This means a crib or pack-n-play that's up to date on safety standards and that you haven’t altered in any way, the space is free from anything that could possibly fall into the crib (i.e. hanging a blanket on the side of the crib that falls in on baby’s head), and that your baby can roll easily in what they’re wearing (i.e. No weighted sleep sacks or swaddles). 

How Tummy Time Can Help Your Baby Sleep Better

If your little one has learned how to roll onto their tummy and does so often while they’re sleeping, only to have it wake them up, tummy time can help by making sleep easier and safer.

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.

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

  • Encourages independent play and stimulation. Experiencing different sounds, textures, and visuals are all part of physical and brain development (and building those muscles!)
  • Builds up sleep pressure to sleep well. If a baby only goes from eating to sleeping and back again all day, they may not be tired enough to sleep for a long, restorative nap! Tummy time is hard work for a baby and helps tucker them out for a better, longer rest. 
  • Is important for physical development [2]. Developmental milestones can disrupt sleep, so tummy time is essential for mastering lots of those milestones, including rolling!

If tummy time continues to be a struggle, try making it interactive! Get down on your baby’s level and make smiles and silly faces, or try putting a few stimulating, age-appropriate toys in front of them to distract them. 

Everything with babies comes down to consistent practice. So if your baby hates tummy time or has started rolling to their tummy during the night, and it’s causing you both to lose sleep, know that with consistency, they will get used to it! Keep going.

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 check out my 1-on-1 email support package for personalized troubleshooting guidance.



[1] https://www.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2022/ 

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32371428/

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