Basics Sleep

My Newborn Rolls To Their Side: Is It Safe?

One of the most exciting milestones in your baby’s development is when they roll over for the very first time.

But if you’ve stopped by to read this post, there’s a good chance you suspect your baby is currently a bit too young to have already reached this milestone.

And you’d be right, because if your baby is only a few days, weeks or even just a couple of months old, what’s probably happening is that your newborn is not in fact rolling over.

Instead, you are most likely witnessing the “newborn curl”.

But is this movement normal or safe?

Should you wake your baby up if you have noticed that they’ve rolled over while sleeping?

And what happens if they are wearing a swaddle – is this potentially dangerous?

Here’s everything you need to know on the subject of newborns rolling onto their side.

When Can Babies Roll Over?

Babies will typically start rolling over when they are around 3 to 4 months of age.

In most cases a baby will roll from their tummy to their back before they are able to roll from their back onto their tummy.

Once your baby gets the hang of this first movement and develops more strength, they should be able to roll over both sides, which usually happens around the 6 months mark.

Person Holding Baby's Hand

Is It Normal For A Newborn To Roll Over?

Given the above, it is therefore not normal for a newborn to roll over in the technical sense of the word.

Some common signs that your baby is ready to start rolling over include:

  • Lifting their chest, arching their back and holding their head up.
  • Rocking on their stomach.
  • Kicking or swivelling their legs.
  • Swimming with their arms.

Clearly if your baby is a newborn they aren’t doing any of the above because they don’t have the strength or coordination just yet.

What is really going on is that your newborn is not actually rolling over per say, but they are doing something called the “newborn curl”.

What Is The Newborn Curl?

If this term is new to you then you’re not alone, because when I first became a parent it wasn’t something I had heard of either.

The newborn curl is an involuntary reflex that young babies naturally have.

It stems from the fact that your baby was so used to being curled up in the fetal position when they were in mommy’s tummy that they are still getting into this position after birth.

A baby doing the newborn curl will literally curl themselves into a scrunched up fetal position that results in them unintentionally rolling onto their side.

In some cases your newborn might even roll onto their tummy or stomach, although this is less common.

But either way, if your newborn is rolling to the side you should note that unlike a traditional roll, the newborn curl is an unintentional movement, and that’s a key difference in a newborn curl vs rolling.

Is It OK If My Newborn Keeps Rolling On His Side To Sleep?

Now let’s move on to the topic that’s always top of a parent’s mind; safety.

Many moms and dads have noticed their little one in the fetal position and ask if it’s safe for a baby to sleep on their side, or if a newborn rolling to the side in a bassinet or crib is safe or not.

First up, it’s worth reiterating that the safest way for a baby to sleep is on their back for every sleep for the first year, because this reduces the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

So if your newborn rolls to the side it’s not ideal, and when you spot this happening you should gently roll them onto their back again.

It can be comforting to know that the newborn curl is a perfectly normal physiological response that will typically go away after a few weeks.

When it comes to safety, what is perhaps even more important is to follow the ABCs of safe sleep, which stand for:

  • Alone: Because co-sleeping increases the risk of infant sleep-related death.
  • Back: Babies should be put to sleep on their backs.
  • Crib: Babies should always sleep in a crib, bassinet or Moses basket with a firm mattress covered with a fitted sheet. And the crib should be completely empty, which means no blankets, toys or loveys.

One thing that I personally found comforting and reassuring when it came to my baby’s safety while sleeping was to use an under-mattress baby monitor.

These devices are designed to monitor and detect even the slightest baby’s movements through the mattress, and if they don’t detect any movement for 20 seconds then an alarm sounds.

Now don’t get me wrong, no device can fully eliminate the risk of SIDS or suffocation.

But I found it reassuring to use a device like this to reduce my anxiety when my newborn started rolling to the side in their seep.

Babysense Under-Mattress Baby Monitor (Amazon, $149.95)

Is It Safe For A Newborn To Roll In Their Swaddle?

Swaddling is a way of wrapping a baby in a blanket so that their limbs are secure and can’t wriggle out.

Swaddling a baby is designed to replicate the feeling of being in mommy’s womb, and this practice can help a baby feel calm and can promote better sleep because it keeps a baby’s automatic startle (or Moro) reflex in check*.

When your baby starts showing signs of rolling, it no longer becomes safe to use a swaddle.

That’s because there is a risk your child could end up face-down in their swaddle, and with their arms tightly wrapped, your baby would not be able to move out of that position and could therefore suffocate.

This means that when your baby is around 3 to 4 months and is showing signs that rolling over isn’t far away, you should not dress them for sleep in a swaddle and opt for a sleep sack instead.

However, the important thing here is that swaddles are safe for newborns, and  a newborn rolling onto their side is not actually showing signs of rolling over.

That means there is no need to transition out of a swaddle just because you’ve observed the newborn curl.

If you are still concerned about your newborn rolling to the side in a swaddle then keep in mind that sleep sacks are safe for babies who can roll over, because their design enables a baby to freely move their arms and hips.

And what’s more, sleep sacks are safe for newborns as well as older infants and toddlers, provided the fit is correct.

baby sleeping in crib wearing a sleep sack

*The Moro reflex is an automatic reaction that a newborn has when they are asleep in their crib and feel like they are about to freefall, which is when this startle reflex kicks in and a baby throws their arms and legs out in order to try and catch themselves.

How To Stop Your Newborn Rolling Onto Their Side

Unfortunately there is no way to prevent your baby from rolling to the side when sleeping, or indeed to prevent them from rolling onto their stomach.

What a parent can do however is always make sure they place their baby onto their back for each sleep, while also of course following the ABC’s of safe sleep mentioned above.

If your son or daughter does roll to their side while sleeping, you can gently return them to their back.

You’ll want to continue doing this for the first year, or until you are confident that your little one can roll both ways (from back to front and front to back) without any difficulty.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Baby & Toddler Sleep

Tori is mama to 3 year old Isabella and co-founder of Rockinbaby. She has a BSc in Psychology, is a certified yoga teacher and is a working mom. In her free time Tori loves cooking delicious foods and baked treats, entertaining and working out. Learn more about Tori here.

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