When will my baby learn to turn over?

Your baby doesn’t need your help – not in all the ways you think, anyway.

Did you know that the average infant may develop just as quickly, if not more so, with less intervention from you?

Does it surprise you to know that when an infant is allowed to move freely, he will learn to roll, creep, crawl, and sit, with no assistance?

So why are we encouraged to be constantly stimulating our little ones – placing them on their tummies before they can hold their heads up, for example?

Illustration by Klara Papp

Illustration by Klara Papp

Last week I had the great privilege of facilitating five days of Basic Level Pikler Training, in my role with the Pikler UK Association in London. I’ve completed the course myself already but there is always something new to hear and learn. This occasion was no exception.

As usual for me, and in my quest for deeper understanding of the Pikler Approach, there were some ‘Aha!’ moments and some ‘Oh no!’ moments. New things to share with the parents I support, and more things I wish I’d done differently with my own children. Such is life when one is continually open to self-improvement.

There’s no such thing as the perfect parent – any more than there is perfection anywhere in the human experience. Learning to accept that and always just do your best is one of the most valuable lessons there is.

I sometimes talk to parents about how animals don’t help their young learn to move properly – they don’t place them in any positions or hold them as they learn to walk. It’s in their DNA to find their own way. It just happens naturally. Why shouldn’t humans be the same?

When you look at it like that, it’s logical, isn’t it?

I’ve been encouraging parents to allow this natural gross motor development for their children for about five years now. For those that arrive in my classes before they’ve started to move around much, there’s a real opportunity for me to support this approach from the start. It’s been amazing to see so many little ones truly find their own way from lying on their backs, exploring what they can easily see and reach, to walking and even running around in the brief time I get to share in their lives. I feel honoured that these parents are able to trust, first in me and then in the unfolding child.

And for those who come a little later, it’s still not too late to put something into practice. At any age, we can encourage our little ones to learn some independence in their movement and find their balance and autonomy, especially through self-chosen play.

There are often doubts. Peer pressure, well-meaning health professionals and family members, all have questions for the new parent. Are they turning yet? Are they sitting up yet? Are they crawling/standing/walking yet? Comparisons are made, and the seeds of doubt are sown.

But when will my baby learn to turn over?

If you put your little one on their tummy, before they know how to get there themselves, it can be very frustrating. Baby can bump his face on the floor, unable to hold his head up. The little one may start to cry after only a few minutes, feeling stranded and uncomfortable in this alien position. And yet we are told, encouraged, and pressured to do this very thing – that it is good for them.

On the other hand, if you put your little one on her back, in a warm, comfortable spot, away from danger and draught, she may find that it’s interesting to look from one side to the other. Her legs might come up and she might kick them about. Her arms are free to move – reaching to one side or the other, floating across in front of her face where she can follow them with her eyes, resting on the floor.

From this relaxed position, all is possible. In time, the raised legs may lean to one side, taking the body along too. Turning has begun. If this is accompanied by interest in an object close by, the head may turn too, taking the body a little further and creating a possibility to balance on the side. Do you see how things might progress?

Sooner or later – and it doesn’t matter which – there will be enough impetus to take the body all the way over, often in a surprising and sudden move. Baby finds himself balanced on his belly – arms and legs flailing a little as he has to find his balance all over again. At this stage, he may well need some help to return to his back, even if only to be able to flip over again!

But when? That was the question. When will my baby do this? How do I know if I need to intervene?

According to statistics gathered at the Pikler Institute over a period of, I believe, more than fifty years, the range in ages for achieving the roll from back to front may happen anytime between around three and nine months. That’s a huge range. Even then, there will be two or three percent who do this either earlier or later. The point is that it will happen. The difficult bit is trusting that this is so.

If your child hasn’t done this yet, what’s the hurry? Trust that all is well unless there is clearly something wrong. Allow yourself to relax and watch for a while each day, noticing where the child’s attention goes, what is interesting to her, and what she finds frustrating. Let her know you understand and that you are there – ready to cuddle when one is needed, ready to feed and change and carry when the time comes.

It’s human nature in its pure state. Beautiful, awe-inspiring in one so small, and just one of a myriad of discoveries that is the beginning of life-long learning, wellbeing and self-competence.




Rachel TappingComment