Newborn and Infant Vision


New parents often describe the joy they feel when first peering into the eyes of their child. There seems to be a literal connection between them. Coupled with this love and closeness is a question, can they see me back? How does the world appear to a newborn child? When does a baby begin to see?

Infant vision is a highly studied topic. This is due in part to the questions asked above and also to questions such as how to protect the eyes of small children. Much has been learned in the past few decades about how vision develops and what visual risks infants and small children are subject to in those early years.

Visual Development

Vision starts developing before a baby is born. In utero, the eye is almost fully formed by month four. At seven months, the baby opens its eyelids for the first time. After this, they begin to move their eyes and can actually become more active in response to bright light shined through the skin. This visual stimulation helps the brain fine-tune the neural circuits needed to have functional vision after the baby is born.

A newborn baby has the ability to see colors and objects, but they are nearsighted. They can only focus on objects that are about 8-15 inches away from them. Beyond that range, vision is blurry. However, as babies begin to grow, their vision improves. By the time babies are three months old, they can locate objects, recognize faces and spot shapes and motifs. They are also able to differentiate between colors. By the time a baby is about a year old, their vision has fully developed. They are ready to view the world for the rest of life.

Early Vision Problems

During the first few months after birth, infants might seem to ignore their surroundings. This is normal and should not cause parents too much worry. However, if no improvement shows for much longer than this, it may be a sign of vision problems. If parents notice anything that does not appear to be normal, they should contact their doctor. Many vision problems, if detected early, can be corrected, affording the child a life without any vision problem.

Warning parents about two eye conditions to watch for in children, strabismus and amblyopia (lazy eye), University of Utah pediatrician, Dr. Cynthia Gellner said, “When you can see they're getting tired and one of the eyes is just kind of wandering away, it's time to mention that to your doctor.” She also mentions that these symptoms usually do not show up until toddler age, as infants often go cross-eyed.

Sun Protection

Infants, toddlers, and small children’s eyes are very susceptible to damage from the sun, especially if they have lighter eye colors. If care is not taken, irreparable eye damage can ruin a child’s otherwise perfect vision. Sun protection is a must when outside, either from shelter, sunglasses, a well-fitting hat or a visor. Parents should provide good examples of eye protection for their children by wearing sunglasses.

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