Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Does "Back to Sleep" Delay Babies' Rolling Over?

By Jennifer Goldbronn, RD, MAS

The Back to Sleep Campaign, now known as the Safe to Sleep Campaign, educates parents about ways to decrease SIDS risk, including putting babies on their backs to sleep.

There has been some controversy in the past that this campaign has actually decreased the total time babies spend on their tummies not just during sleep but while they are awake.  There was some concern that less time on the tummy would delay some motor skills such as rolling over, sitting up or crawling. What followed was a campaign to promote “tummy time” during awake time.

Studies then followed looking at whether or not specific developmental milestones were delayed since inception of the Back to Sleep Campaign.

Some studies found slight delays but results were still within developmental norms.  Other studies showed that the age of rolling tummy to back was older and that babies were reversing which milestone they hit first, rolling back to front first instead of front to back. For information on the age at which babies roll over, click here.

Thus, a new study aimed to see if there really was a difference in the developmental milestone (rolling over) before the Back to Sleep Campaign compared to now, 20 years later. Current data were compared to the AIMS (Alberta Infant Motor Skills) data set, a measure of normal infant motor abilities, collected 20 years ago. The current data set used the same assessment guidelines and age ranges as the AIMS data set, and the proportion of infants passing each of four items (immature and mature front to back rolling and immature and mature back to front rolling) by 36 weeks of age was assessed.

What did they find? Infants in both groups achieved the milestone of rolling over at almost the same age. The order with which the infants reached the four milestones (passing each item) was the same in both the pre-campaign and post-campaign groups. The age at which 50% of infants could perform each milestone was also the same in both groups.

The results of this study show no significant effect of the Back to Sleep Campaign messaging on infants’ ability to reach the "rolling over" milestone. The authors of the current study will continue to assess the effects of the Back to Sleep Campaign on other motor skills such as crawling, sitting and walking. Stay tuned for the results!

For more information about making tummy time easier for your baby, click here.

We also clarified some common misconceptions about tummy time in this subsequent post.


Darrah J, Bartlett DJ. Infant rolling abilities- the same or different 20 years after the back to sleep campaign? Early Hum Dev. (2012) [Epub ahead of print]

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