Q&A: Rolling over but not being able to roll back

Andrea is wondering if there's anything to be done about her daughter, who is 4 months old and has started rolling onto her tummy, but can't roll back:

"she just lies there whining because she can't get back onto her back. but then when i flip her back, she just rolls back to her front again! i can't win."

Oh, yes. I remember this stage. And now, in hindsight, it makes me laugh. The babies stuck on their stomachs are the opposite for turtles flipped onto their backs.

I don't think there's anything to be done about it, honestly. If you do keep flipping them, it only prolongs the stage. And if you use a baby positioner to stop it, you're just delaying the problem, because babies all have to learn to roll back to front to back at some point. Honestly, the more frustrated a baby is now, the faster he or she will learn to roll back again.

Who else is going through this or remembers it? Or its sister stage: Being able to stand up but not being able to sit down again? Both hilarious to parents of older kids, but not so funny when you're the parent of the child in question. I think this is just another Wait-It-Out problem.


43 thoughts on “Q&A: Rolling over but not being able to roll back”

  1. Well, I have a 4 1/2 month old who has been doing this since she first rolled over at 3 months. I do flip her over, but not immediately – I let her fuss up until I can see she’s about to get really upset. We give her as much tummy time as possible, so now she’ll go 10 or 15 minutes on her tummy before she starts to fuss, which is a definite improvement over 10 or 15 seconds which is where she started. She’s still not rolling tummy to back yet and it’s been 6 weeks. I’d love any suggestions on how to help her roll back!

  2. I’m sure my kids went through this phase, but now that they are ages 6 and 9 I confess I have no memory of it. This suggests a couple of things to me, the first of which is that I have holes in my brain. But secondly, it must not have lasted for a very long time or it would have made a bigger impression, even on one with a holey brain like myself. As frustrating (for baby and parent) as these things can be, probably one to file in the “this too shall pass” category. Before you know it, there be something entirely new to drive you batty, and 10 more things to totally delight you. The same still hold true with the 6 and 9 year-old, too.

  3. I was lucky. Our firstborn went through this phase when my husband was between jobs, and he decided to make it his problem. He spent about three days dealing with the temper tantrums (she was about five months?) and encouraging her to figure it out. She did. I couldn’t take the yelling and made myself scarce. I don’t there’s anything to “do” but let her figure it out, but boy, I’m with you on understanding how annoying it is!

  4. I don’t recall either of my children having an issue with rolling one way but not the other or standing but not sitting (maybe falling with style is a better way to put sitting at that age).Anway, if there is anything to be done about it, I would say you could try bending one leg/knee up so that the knee is at about tummy area and then showing the baby how to use the leg to flip herself over. You kind of straighten the leg out for her. Or you could ban tummy time for a day or two and work on sitting upright. The different perspective and muscles used might make it more tolerable when you go back to tummy time.
    She’ll figure it out on her own, but I know I used to play with my kids like that moving their little bodies through different movements. I was very bored as a SAHM and used to do all kinds of things to them (like make them wear hats with ears that made them look like adorable little bears).

  5. I remember that stage – my son would roll over onto his tummy in the middle of the night and then wake up crying because he couldn’t roll back over. I remember going in there like 10 times in one night and feeling like I was going crazy! He figured it out within a few weeks and now it’s this hazy memory. Like many other things in that first year, it seemed like such a big deal at the time and now it seems silly that I got so worked up over it. Even now when we’re in the midst of a difficult phase it can feel like it’s going to go on forever and it can be hard to put it in perspective to know that it will pass before I know it. Hang in there!

  6. My daughter is 8.5 months; she went through this stage at exactly the same age. I’d let her fuss a minute, and eventually help her back over. Rest assured that nowadays she’s rolling all over the floor in every direction (it’s her chief method of locomotion). I’m pretty sure my son went through the same stage, too. Whatever you do, it will pass.

  7. DD had the standing problem. She’s stand in her crib and then be stuck and cry and cry because she couldn’t figure out what to do. Eventually (a week or 2 later) she figured out to let go and then all was right with the world again.

  8. Our (now 13-month-old) daughter learned how to roll to her tummy at 5 months, but it took her 2.5 months to consistently roll to her back. In between we had a time where she was constantly flipping onto her belly and hollering and complaining. She would even flip in her sleep, and it got to the point where if we turned her back over, she would be flipping back to her belly before she was even flat on her back. So, we gave up trying, and let her work it out on her own. After 3-4 days of gradually complaining less and less, she became more accustomed to being on her belly, and stopped objecting. Not long thereafter, she FINALLY learned to flip to her back, and was then generally more content.Long story short: I think it’s a wait-it-out problem.

  9. My daughter would do this and it was HILARIOUS. She had this big enormous head and no neck to speak of, so she’d get a little bit more of her body over every day until pretty much all of her was over except for her big bulbous head (she was also bald). And then she’d kind of yell. I did help her at that point. And she figured out rolling over and rolling back all on the same day–it was like once she learned to manage her giant head, she had both skills nailed. Your baby might be like my son…while his sister would take WEEKS leading up to full mastery of a skill, trying a little bit more each day, he would just lay there until he had it all figured out and then boom, he had it.

  10. me and our 6-month-old are in the same boat, good thing she lasts pretty long on her tummy. the hardest part of rolling back is figuring out how to position their arm so they don’t hyperextend the shoulder, so sometimes i would coach her by holding her arm out of her way, and her own weight/momentum would roll her over. she’s got the hang of it, but still whines about it just… because 🙂 our son was a late roller, and i don’t remember how long this phase lasted with him.

  11. Oh the time when my son could stand but didn’t know how to sit down was kind of bittersweet. I thought it was so funny because he was so proud of standing up but then he’d quickly look around and I could see the “now what?!” in his face. Then I’d feel bad that he didn’t know how to do it and the whining started (from him). Now that he’s 21 months I’m astounded and how fast he walks/runs/jumps up on things.

  12. I think you have to just wait it out. Another bad one is when you can only crawl backwards and you wind up backing yourself into corners, under the bed, etc.

  13. Luckily, our son (now 11 months) learned how to roll tummy to back first. We think this is because of how much he absolutely despised tummy time. The problem, though, was when we would try to give him tummy time, he would just roll right over to his back!

  14. That stage was AWFUL with my baby because once he learned to roll onto his tummy, he did so IMMEDIATELY after being placed on his back (it took him a while to realize he didn’t HAVE to roll if he didn’t want to!) To make things worse, he didn’t realize that he could lay his head down on the ground, so he’d roll onto his tummy, look around for a little while, and then start to get upset and tired and his head would droop, but he would keep struggling to hold it up! It made trying to get him to sleep pretty awful for a few days, but once his neck got stronger and he could look around more, he started enjoying being on his tummy. He STILL can’t roll from his tummy to his back (at almost 7 months – I think he just doesn’t care to do so !) but at least he’s happy sleeping on his tummy now!

  15. I remember these stages clearly for all 5 of my kids. The rolling one usually sorts itself out with a few weeks for sure. The standing one was a shorter time frame but more frustrating for me. I thought I was going to loose my mind (all 5 times) and maybe I did a little. I remember it really frustrating as they would stand to protest a nap and not be able to get back down. Once my son actually fell asleep leaning on the crib bar while standing :-)Reading your post Moxie made me laugh too….it is funnier once you have made it through it. Hang in there Andrea!

  16. I remember being a bit obsessed about rolling over – even just one way. DS was 6 months and still hadn’t done it. Then presto!, he rolled from back to belly on Xmas day at my parents’. I honestly don’t remember much about when he learned to roll back the other way. There was a brief period of flipping him back over if he rolled while he slept. But it didn’t happen often as we swaddled him until he was (ahem) 10.5 months.But yeah, I think too that it’s kind of a wait-it-out thing. Hang in there!

  17. Juno did this for a few weeks, all. night. long. Screaming every time she rolled. She couldn’t stop herself. Pretty awful. I remember coming to Ask Moxie to search the archives about this. Eventually she got used to being on her tummy, and began to sleep that way. Soon after that, she figured out how to roll back. So it’s just a thing that might stink for a while, but it’ll be over pretty soon. 🙂 Good luck!

  18. I called this the pancake stage. Gotta go flip the baby!It does end. Of course, when it ends, it brings a whole host of new problems, like, now the baby can roll off of things. Yeah.
    I have a 10-day-old who can sorta already roll from his back to his side (which freaks me the heck out!), and from his side to his stomach. I’m kinda looking forward to the pancake stage. Kinda. Well, not really.

  19. We had the opposite – could roll to back but not to tummy. Since she was a tummy sleeper this meant her one wakeup a night jumped to a 4 or 5 a night when she’d roll and then wake herself up. That lasted about 8 weeks. A sleep positioner helped for a little while.

  20. Silly baby! I sometimes put a small little baby pillow under his chest to help him figure it out. He seemed to roll back when we did that. Also, holding his elbows under him so he could learn to prop up and push off the arm helped. But really – they figure it out eventually. And then they find something else to fuss and wail about.

  21. I remember this. I used to lie down on the floor next to my daughter so that if she was on her tummy I was on my back looking over at her; she thought that was very funny and it would sometimes encourage her to roll towards me. Then we would do a sort of reverse; her on her back and me on my side lying next to her encouraging her to roll by chatting with her. It was fun. She would get frustrated sometimes but if I played along, she had more fun. Of course, that did get tiresome after a while (for me, anyways!) If invited, she will still play this game sometimes but now that she is 2 a few of the gang of stuffies need to play roll over as well 🙂

  22. If you think about it, it’s kinda scary to roll tummy to back – you can’t see where you’re going! My daughter was ecstatic when she figured out how to roll back to tummy, but terrified of tummy to back. It was the last bit when she had to relinquish control and just roll that she hated.I try really hard not to sweat the timing of milestones. First of all, I absolutely cannot control them. Secondly, there is only a very small percentage of kiddos who make it to 20 without rolling over, agreeing to eat solid foods, sleeping in their own beds, etc. I’m trying to play it cool and let it all happen on it’s own… unless it has to do with sleep. I’m so tired (literally) of dealing with sleep issues! 😛

  23. Weird, my baby did neither of these – she rolled all the way to the other side pretty quickly and never had the sitting-down thing… And although I still ask myself when she will start eating solids, like real food as in not pureed fruit, yoghurt and bread and sleeping for longer than max four hour stretches, I never was/ am still not worried about when she walked, rolled, got which teeth (she has 12 already), etc.

  24. Just went through this with my 4.5 month old. It lasted about a week until she decided “hey! I actually like sleeping on my tummy!”Only 2 or 3 times have I gone into her room and she’s been on her back (after sleeping on tummy) so I know she can roll both ways but is very lazy about tummy to back.
    All I can say is, it shall pass quickly and soon be a distant memory 🙂

  25. OMG totally my life right now. My son (who was big and heavy) had a really hard time with tummy-time and so he didn’t figure out rolling over until way later (like past 6 months) and once he figured _that_ out he was nearly able to sit, so we weren’t too good at keeping up with tummy time, and not long after that he was more coordinated so we didn’t have much of this rolling-over-and-getting-stuck problem. If we did, I’ve definitely blocked it out from my memory.My 5-month-old daughter is totally at this stage now. She gets so mad if she’s been on her tummy for a while and can’t roll back. She does not like to sleep on her tummy, so I can’t just leave her to rest/fall asleep that way. I’ve seen her roll from back to front, and then once or twice she has continued rolling and ended up back on her back. But yeah, we’re definitely at that stage. And if I just roll her over she gives me her “Why aren’t you picking me up?” cry. Sigh!

  26. I had a baby who could roll to the right but not the left. He’d end up under the furniture, stuck. I love the photos b/c they make me laugh. I wish I’d had video of it! At least the stage is short. They all learn it eventually!

  27. I missed this one, as I had the only kid in the world who actually preferred being on his stomach to his back. I didn’t discover this till he learnt to roll, as he screamed whenever we laid him flat on his back, and all kids hate being on their stomach don’t they? So I assumed he would really really hate it and we did no tummy time at all. Until he rolled over one day, grinned, and stayed like that for the next hour. He always deliberately put himself that way up after that, and our lives improved no end.Later he would experimentally flip backwards and forwards for the fun of rolling, but always settle for his stomach.
    He crawled before he could sit, (commando style, but fast), so he was on 12 hours of tummy time a day within a month of first trying it.
    Secondborn appears not to have his brother’s reflux, hyperflexibility or insane amount of energy, so I may have this to look forward to.

  28. My daughter was a bit odd with her learning to roll over. She learned to roll from back to front (and she would sometimes fuss, but not a lot). But she never really rolled from front to back. She just went straight to sitting up (6 months) and then on to belly crawling (8 months) and from there the need to roll from front to back seemed to have been passed.

  29. Ha! I always suspected my daughter to be something of a daredevil – now I know it. She never had the standing problem, because if she wanted to sit she’d just throw herself down with a big thump … often falling backwards and bumping her head in the process. I worried for weeks about a tailbone injury but now she squats, stands, and sits just fine.As for the rolling, I don’t remember anything other than how frustrated she’d get on her stomach. Like @Olivia above, I don’t think she ever really rolled from front to back – just went to sitting up and then as soon as she could to crawling so she could keep that stomach off the ground.

  30. We are in this stage now – 5 mo old daughter. I read that if they are old enough to roll over then they are old enough to sleep on their stomach. After weeks of her waking up throughout the night pissed off on her stomach and unable to roll back, we needed a new plan. So now I nurse her to sleep (we’ll work on that later) and lay her down on her stomach to sleep. She wakes a LOT less frequently.

  31. Oh my goodness I am so stressed about this stage! Our first daughter was tiny so we saddled her and had her sleep in a baby hammock system (amby baby) until she was 5 months old so she was unable to roll over while sleeping. By the time we moved her into the crib and stopped swaddling she could roll all the way over no problem. With our new daughter she is a chunk and at 4 months she is so chubby that she busts out of her swaddle all the time and the hammock was recalled so we have her in a bassinet. She is definitely ready for the crib but she gets so mad when she rolls onto her tummy. Guess we just need to bite the bullet and hope it will pass soon.

  32. Mine is going through this right now too. He’s 7.5 months and just learned last week how to roll from back to front. He looks proud of himself and enjoys it for a few minutes, and then he starts kicking his legs and screeching like a dying lizard. He has a GINORMOUS head, and I think it’s hard for him to do stuff because of it. I try to let him struggle and experience the frustration for a while, but it’s SO hard not to rush in and fix it for him right away.

  33. I am going through this right now also with my 5 month old. How long should I let her fuss? I feel so awful letting her fuss on her tummy, but know that if I fix it for her every time she won’t learn. She does it at night, so have been using a sleep positioner, but now she is a houdini and can kick her way out of that. I want to let her figure it out on her own, but she is just so unhappy on her tummy and refuses to lie her head down and settle. Suggestions welcome.

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