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.
Smoking During Pregnancy Associated With Childhood Vision Problems
Need another reason to avoid smoking (and other smokers) during pregnancy? Add potential vision problems for your baby to the list.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.
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.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.
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.
Many Infants Don’t Receive An Eye Exam In Their First Year
Only 18 percent of parents reported that their infant had received a comprehensive eye exam before age 1, in a survey conducted by the American Optometric Association (AOA) in 2011. The survey, which included responses from 1,000 American adults, also found that 61 percent were aware that lazy eye and 63 percent were aware that crossed eyes could be found in infants. But fewer than one-third knew that cancer, farsightedness and nearsightedness could also be found in an infant eye exam.
It’s important to begin treatment of such problems as early as possible, to prevent developmental delays and permanent vision problems, as well as life-threatening risks from eye cancers. This is why the AOA recommends that all infants receive a comprehensive eye exam by 6 months of age.
Vision Development: Months 4 To 6
How quickly they grow! 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.
Vision Development: Months 7 To 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!)
When your baby starts crawling, play with him on the floor to help develop his eye-hand coordination and motor skills.
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.
Eye Alignment Problems
Be sure to pay close attention to how well your baby’s eyes work together as a team. Strabismus is the term for a misalignment of the eyes, and it is important that it is detected and treated early so the vision in both eyes develops properly. Left untreated, strabismus can lead to amblyopia or “lazy eye.”
Though it takes a few months for an infant’s eyes to develop eye teaming skills, if you feel one of your baby’s eyes is misaligned constantly or does not move in synch with the other eye, contact your pediatrician or eye doctor as soon as possible.
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