27 April, 2020
Today I am going to begin talking about how babies move from one position to another. These movements are called transitions.

Transitional gross-motor milestones – part 1

We transition from one movement to another hundreds of times a day. We go from rolling over in bed, lying to sitting up, from sitting to standing, standing to squat to pick something up, kneeling to garden, moving in and out of the car, playing on the floor and getting back up. The list is endless and we would never think about it unless we injured ourselves, were pregnant, or until we age. The learning of these movements starts between four and six months, until then babies are totally dependent for position changes on their parents.

During the first twelve months of a baby’s life they are developing the ability to move in an upright position, finally ending up standing on one leg briefly as they walk. To achieve this, babies need to learn to move from one position to another using transitions. In the first year of life, a baby masters a number of transitions. These movements set the foundation for a child’s physical development throughout the first years of their lives (we call this physical literacy). The ability to attempt, practice, and master early movement is essential to a child’s physical, cognitive and social development. The first failed attempts to move, the subsequent practice, and eventual success lead to a series of experiences and risk takings as a child moves towards physical independence. The series of transitions a child makes during the first year of life are multiple. Some are small and some are monumental. Today I will discuss the first transition: Rolling.


This is the very first motor skill a baby learns that involves moving from one position to another. Without this, a baby cannot move from whatever position a carer places him/her in.
Babies begin to roll from as early as 3-4 months. Originally it is accidental! The baby does mini push ups, using his arms for support, with his head high, then he/she moves their weight to one arm and suddenly he/she tips and now he/she is on their back. The first few rolls surprise him/her and amaze you!! Though able to roll, it is without control and therefore your baby may not practice it on their own. At this age, most babies roll tummy to back, but either way is fine.
Babies are pushing up on strong long arms by 5 months and are able to lift their chests off the floor on their tummies. They may also lift their legs and rock or assume the superman flying position by lifting both arms and legs off together and balancing on their tummy. On their back they are lifting their legs off the floor and playing with their feet. This strengthening allows the baby to develop the muscles to roll in either direction, and by 6 months this movement becomes planned. Babies are now able to lie on their side as they roll from their back to their tummy. This position and the resulting completion of the movement involves a number of systems working together. These include vision (visual feed allows orientation of the baby’s head), the vestibular system (sensory system that assists with balance and awareness of spatial orientation), postural reactions that allow head righting on the baby’s body as they move. Then the baby continues to turn their head and extend their trunk as they move their top arm across their body (this is the beginning of crossing the midline) and then they extend their legs to complete the movement. They are off! Initially a baby will use rolling as their first form of locomotion as they roll from back to front to get a toy or a cuddle from you. This exploration of the environment and mobility skill is the building block of all other movements, creeping, moving in and out of sitting into all fours, crawling, and then moving up onto their feet will quickly develop from here.


Rolling is the first transitional movement skill and allows a baby to:
Whenever assisting your baby to practice movement, incorporate it through play and/or song. There are lots of lovely rolling songs, i.e. “5 in the bed and the little one said…roll over…”
Always be aware to never leave your baby unattended on a high surface, even before they roll…you’d hate for his/her first roll to be off a raised surface.

Assisting your baby to roll from one position to another gives a baby the experience of moving, the confidence that it is okay as you are showing them to do it, and helps develop the muscles, the sensory systems, and coordination to perform the movement independently.

If you have any concerns about your baby’s early movement skills please ask your doctor on your next visit or contact a paediatric physiotherapist.

Stay safe, happy, and well.


By Debbie Evans

Executive Director

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