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.
The visual system of a newborn infant takes some time to develop. In the first week of life, babies don’t see much detail. Their first view of the world is indistinct and only in shades of gray.
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.
Smoking is particularly hazardous during pregnancy, as cigarette smoke contains an estimated 3,000 different chemicals that can potentially harm humans — including carbon monoxide, a known fetal toxin.
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.
Also, an antibiotic ointment is usually applied to your newborn’s eyes to help prevent an eye infection from bacteria present in the birth canal.
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!
Your Baby’s Eyes In The First Month
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.
Keeping your appearance consistent helps your baby recognize and interact with you after birth.
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.
Vision Development: Months 2 And 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.
A bright, cheerful room with many colors and shapes helps stimulate your infant’s vision development.
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.