One of the greatest moments when having a child is the first time your newborn daughter or son opens their eyes and makes eye contact with you. But don’t be concerned if that doesn’t happen right away.
It takes several months for your child’s vision to develop fully. Knowing the milestones of your baby’s vision development (and what you can do to help it along) can insure your child is seeing properly and enjoying his world to the fullest.
Infant Vision Development Starts During Pregnancy
Your child’s vision development begins before birth. How you care for your own body during your pregnancy is extremely important for the development of your baby’s body and mind, including the eyes and the vision centers in the brain.
Be sure to follow the instructions your OB/GYN doctor gives you regarding proper nutrition, including supplements, and the proper amount of rest you need during your pregnancy. Avoid smoking and consuming alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, as these toxins can cause multiple problems for your baby, including serious vision problems.
Even taking common medications like aspirin can be dangerous to your baby when you are pregnant, increasing the risk of low birth weight and problems during delivery. Low birth weight has been associated with an increased risk of vision problems in infants.
Always talk to your OB/GYN doctor before taking any medications during your pregnancy, including over-the-counter medicines, herbal supplements and other non-prescription remedies.
Vision Development at Birth
Soon after birth, your doctor will briefly examine your infant’s eyes to rule out signs of congenital cataracts or other serious neonatal eye problems. Though such eye problems are rare, they must be detected and treated early to minimize their impact on your child’s vision development.
At birth, your baby sees only in black and white and shades of gray. Nerve cells in their retina and brain that control vision are not fully developed. Also, a newborn infant’s eyes don’t have the ability to accommodate (focus on near objects). So don’t be concerned if your baby doesn’t seem to be “focusing” on objects, including your face. It just takes time.
Despite these visual limitations, studies show that within a few days after birth, infants prefer looking at an image of their mother’s face to that of a stranger.
Researchers believe this preference depends on large, high-contrast stimuli, like the boundary of the mother’s hairline to her face. (In studies, if these boundaries were masked with a scarf or bathing cap, the infants’ preference of looking at their mother’s face went away.)
So to encourage visual interaction with your newborn child, keep your hair style the same, and avoid altering your appearance.
One thing you may notice about your newborn son or daughter is how large their eyes are. This is because normal infant development proceeds from the head down. At birth, your baby’s eyes are already 65 percent of their adult size!
Baby’s Eyes in Month 1
Your baby’s eyes are not very sensitive to light in the first month of life. In fact, the amount of light required for a 1-month-old infant to be aware that light is present (called the light detection threshold) is 50 times higher than that of an adult.
So it’s OK to leave some lights on in the nursery — it won’t affect their ability to sleep — and it may help keep you from stubbing your toes on furniture when you go in to check on them!
Infants start to develop the ability to see in colors very quickly. At one week after birth, they can see red, orange, yellow and green. But it takes a little longer for them to be able to see blue and violet. This is because blue light has shorter wavelengths, and fewer color receptors exist in the human retina for blue light.
Don’t be too concerned if your baby’s eyes sometimes don’t appear to be working together as a team early on. One eye may occasionally drift inward or outward from proper alignment. This is normal. But if you see a large and constant misalignment of their eyes, notify your eye care practitioner right away.
Tips: To help stimulate your infant’s vision, decorate their room with bright, cheerful colors. Include artwork and furnishings with contrasting colors and shapes. Also hang a brightly colored mobile above or near their crib. Make sure it has a variety of colors and shapes.
Baby’s Eyes in Months 2 & 3
Many advances in vision development take place in months two and three. Infants develop sharper visual acuity during this period, and their eyes are beginning to move better as a team. Your child should be following moving objects at this stage and starting to reach for things he sees.
Also, infants at this stage of development are learning how to shift their gaze from one object to another without having to move their head. And their eyes are becoming more sensitive to light: at 3 months old, an infant’s light detection threshold is only 10 times that of an adult. So you may want to dim the lights a bit more for naps and bedtime.
Tips: To help stimulate your 2- to 3-month-old child’s vision development, the American Optometric Association (AOA) has these recommendations:
- Add new items to their room or frequently change the location of their crib or existing items in the room.
- Talk to your baby as you walk around the room.
- Keep a night light on to provide visual stimulation when they are awake in their crib.
- While infants should be placed on their backs for sleep to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), put them on their stomachs when they are awake and you can supervise them. This provides important visual and motor experiences.
Baby’s Eyes in Months 4-6
By age 6 months, significant advances have taken place in the vision centers of the brain, allowing your infant to see more distinctly and move his eyes quicker and more accurately to follow moving objects.
Visual acuity improves from about 20/400 at birth to approximately 20/25 at 6 months of age. Color vision should be similar to that of an adult as well, enabling your child to see all the colors of the rainbow.
Babies also have better eye-hand coordination at 4 to 6 months of age, allowing them to quickly locate and pick up objects and accurately direct a bottle (and many other things!) to their mouth.
Six months of age also is an important milestone because this is when your child should have his first children’s eye exam.
Even though your baby doesn’t know the letters on a wall chart, your eye doctor can perform non-verbal testing to assess his visual acuity, detect nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, and evaluate his eye teaming and alignment.
At this exam, your eye care practitioner will also check the health of your baby’s eyes and look for anything that might interfere with normal and continuing vision development. For the most thorough eye exam for your 6-month-old, you may want to seek the services of an eye doctor who specializes in children’s vision and vision development.
Baby’s Eyes in Months 7-12
Your child is now mobile, crawling about and covering more distance than you could ever have imagined. He is better at judging distances and more accurate at grasping and throwing objects. (Look out!)
This is an important developmental period for your child. At this stage, infants are developing a better awareness of their overall body and are learning how to coordinate their vision with their body movements.
It’s also a time that requires greater diligence on your part to keep your baby from harm. Bumps, bruises, eye injuries and other serious injuries can occur as he begins to physically explore his environment. In particular, keep cabinets that contain cleaning supplies locked, and put barriers in front of stairwells.
Don’t be concerned if your infant’s eyes are beginning to change color. Most babies are born with blue eyes because darker pigments in the iris aren’t completely developed at birth. Over time, more dark pigment is produced in the iris, which will often change your child’s eye color from blue to brown, green, gray or a mixture of colors, as in hazel eyes.
Tips: To stimulate the development of your child’s eye-hand-body coordination, get down on the floor with him and encourage him to crawl to objects. Place a favorite toy on the floor just out of his reach and encourage him to get it. Also provide plenty of objects and toys that he can take apart and put together.