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Baby Vision from the Womb to Age One

Eighty percent (80%) of our learning comes visually. That’s not the case, however, when a newborn child comes home from the hospital. Just as infants have to learn to use their arms and legs, they have to learn to use their eyes. The process takes months, and sometimes a little knowledge about the process can greatly help calm a parent’s concerns.

Eye Development While in the Mother’s Womb
The roots of healthy vision begin well before birth. Unlike most of the organs, a newborn’s eyes are almost 65% of their future adult size on the day he or she is born. A strong correlation exists between low birth weights and increased vision problems in infants. This is one of the many reasons to closely follow your doctor’s recommendations on nutrition, rest, medications and smoking.
What Does a Newborn Baby See First
A baby’s first visual images will be very blurry and largely in shades of gray. The nerve cells of the retina and brain are still developing. Newborns also lack the ability to change focus from near to far objects. Their focus is locked in at about 8 to 12 inches, which just so happens to be the distance from Mom’s shoulder to her face. How blurry is their vision? They can’t make out Mom’s features, but they recognize the outline and proportions of her head.
Shawnee Optical Tip: Since a newborn recognizes the silhouette of faces, if you want a newborn to recognize you, don’t do anything to change that silhouette. Keep everything consistent including your hair style.  Simply putting on a big floppy hat will cause you to be treated like a stranger.
A Baby’s Eyes at One Month Old
Acuity is improving and baby is starting to experience color vision. Reds, oranges, yellows and greens will come first. Recognition of colors with shorter wavelengths, like blue and violet, will take longer to develop. A baby’s eyes may occasionally cross, or turn slightly. This is not unusual, and as long as it is not consistent, you shouldn’t worry.
Shawnee Optical Tip:  At one (1) month old, a baby’s eyes are very tolerant of light. They are about 50 times less sensitive to light than adults. That means a night light in their room won’t disturb them and if they find themselves awake in their crib at night, at least they can look around a bit.
A Baby’s Eyes at Two and Three Months Old
Acuity continues to sharpen and a baby’s eyes are beginning to work together as a team. This brings a big improvement in depth perception, which improves the ability to reach out and touch things. During this time, a baby’s eyes are becoming more sensitive to light, so it’s time to ease back on the lights at naptime and bedtime.
Shawnee Optical Tip: To help with a baby’s visual development, shake up their world a little bit. Move their crib, add new items to their environment, and if they usually are on their back, put them on their belly to play. The variety enriches their visual experience.
A Baby’s Eyes at Four to Six Months Old
By six months, many infants are nearing what we consider normal adult acuity and color vision. Her improving eye-hand coordination shows, as you marvel at how quickly she can get a toy from her hand to her mouth . Now it’s time for baby’s first eye examination. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends an eye exam at 6 months. The eye doctor can do nonverbal checks for near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism and eye alignment.
Shawnee Optical Tip: If you’d like to have your baby’s eyes examined, but can’t afford it, check into the American Optical Association’s InfantSee program.
A Baby’s Eyes at Seven to Twelve Months Old
A baby’s eyes are now almost fully developed and they are learning how to put their new vision to use. They are crawling and exploring. At this age, a baby’s eyes will often start to darken. Newborns’ eyes are typically blue. Pigments build up in the baby’s iris and many blue eyes transform into to brown, green and gray eyes.
Shawnee Optical Tip: To stimulate eye-hand coordination, encourage a baby to crawl to get their toys. The interaction between eyes, arms and legs is very healthy and very important. Surprisingly, encouraging children to walk early may actually hurt the development of their eye-hand skills.
Signs of Vision Problems in Babies
The American Optical Association gives the following list of warning signs that parents should be aware of. Any of these symptoms should be discussed as soon as possible with your pediatrician or eye doctor.
  • Excessive tearing may signal blocked tear ducts.
  • Red or crusty eye lids are a possible sign of infection.
  • Constant eye turning or crossing can indicate poor muscle control.
  • Extreme sensitivity to light could signal high pressures in the eye.
  • White pupils may be a sign of a serious condition, such as cancer.

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