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Learning to Roll Over

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Shari Nethersole, M.D.

Q: My son is four and a half months old and hasn't learned to roll over yet. Every time I put him on his stomach he becomes frustrated and starts crying after about five minutes. I usually give in and place him on his back (which he prefers). Am I hindering his development by granting his request to be on his back, or should I let him cry and "figure it out" (this is the advice I've gotten from a few people)? Other than this, he has passed all other developmental milestones with flying colors and is very happy and healthy. Just concerned. Thank you.

A: Unfortunately, most of us, as parents, look at our child's development as a race or contest which he must do well in. We compare milestones against other children the same age, and worry if Johnny or Susie across the street is performing some skill before our own child can. We also feel that we need to help push them up this developmental ladder. What children really need at this age is lots of love, personal contact, attention to their needs, and an environment that allows them to explore and learn (but doesn't force them to explore if they don't want to).

I'm sure you've read baby books that say infants should roll over at four months. The range for rolling over is about three to six months, however, and chubby babies generally are on the later end of this range (more weight to move!). There is a range for all developmental skills, and just because a baby performs a particular skill early does not mean that they are any smarter, better, or more coordinated. Thus, I would say that if you want to put him on his stomach for a little while to give him a different view of the world, that's fine. Once he starts letting you know that he's unhappy, switch him to his back again. What you'll probably find is that over time he will figure out that there are some benefits to being on his stomach, and he will start to stay there longer and longer by his own choosing.

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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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