The world is a new and amazing place for a tiny baby. There are so many new skills to be learned. And just as your baby starts to talk, sit up, and walk, they’ll also learn to fully use their eyes.
While healthy babies are born with the ability to see, they haven’t yet developed the ability to focus their eyes, accurately move them, or even use them together as a pair. In fact, babies are born near-sighted and can’t focus on distant objects at all.
Processing visual information is an important part of understanding the world around us. Vision and eye problems in infants can lead to developmental delays, so it’s important to be aware of certain milestones as your baby grows and their vision matures.
Your baby’s sight: newborn to 4 months
When your baby is born, they’re peering up at you and the world around them through fuzzy eyes. They can focus best at objects between 8 and 10 inches away from their face. That’s just the right distance for your baby to see your face as you snuggle them in your arms.
After the darkness of your womb, the world is a bright, visually stimulating place. At first, it’ll be difficult for your baby to track between different objects, or even to tell things apart. But this won’t last.
In your baby’s first couple of months, their eyes will start to work together much more effectively. But coordination can be tricky, and you may notice that one eye seems to wander, or both eyes appear to be crossed. In most instances, this is normal. If you continue to note that one eye in particular appears to be looking inward or outward quite often, it’s worth speaking to your pediatrician about it at your next visit.
You may also notice that your baby is developing hand-eye coordination, especially when you watch their eyes tracking a moving object and then their hands reaching out for it.
Though it is not known how well babies can distinguish colors at birth, color vision is likely not fully developed at this stage, and your baby will benefit from bright colors on their toys and blankets.
By around 8 weeks of age, most babies can easily focus on their parents’ faces. Around 3 months, your baby’s eyes should be following things around. If you waggle a brightly colored toy near your baby, you should be able to see their eyes tracking its movements and their hands reaching to grab it.
Get into the habit of talking to your baby and pointing out the things you see.
Your baby’s sight: 5 to 8 months
Your baby’s eyesight will continue to improve dramatically during these months. They’ll begin developing new skills, including depth perception. This ability to determine how close or far away an object is based on objects around it isn’t something your baby could do at birth. Usually, a baby’s eyes don’t work well enough together until about 5 months. At that age, their eyes can form the 3-dimensional view of the world they’ll need to begin seeing things in depth.
Improved hand-eye coordination helps your baby spot something interesting, pick it up, turn it around, and explore it in many different ways. Your baby will love to look at your face, but they may also be interested in looking at books with familiar objects.
Many babies begin to crawl or are otherwise mobile around 8 months or so. Being mobile will help your baby further improve their hand-eye-body coordination.
During this time, your baby’s color vision will also improve. Take your baby to new, interesting places, and continue to point out and label the things you see together. Hang a mobile in your baby’s crib, and make sure they have plenty of time to play safely on the floor.
Your baby’s sight: 9 to 12 months
By the time your baby is 1 year old, they’ll be able to judge distances well. This is an ability that comes in handy when they’re cruising along the couch or navigating the living room from one side to the other. At this point, they can also throw things with some precision, so watch out!
By now, your baby can see things very clearly, both near and far. They can quickly focus on even fast-moving objects. They’ll enjoy playing hide and seek games with toys, or peek-a-boo with you. Continue to name objects when you speak with your baby to encourage word association.
Symptoms of eye and vision problems in babies
Most babies are born with healthy eyes that’ll develop appropriately as they grow. But eye and vision problems can occur.
These symptoms may indicate a problem:
- excessive tearing
- eyelids that are red or crusted
- one or both eyes seems to constantly wander
- extreme sensitivity to light
- a pupil that appears white
These could be signs of problems like:
- blocked tear ducts
- eye infection
- eye muscle control dysfunction
- elevated pressure in the eye
- eye cancer
If you notice any of these symptoms, call your doctor.
While your baby can see you immediately after birth, they’ll spend the next year improving their vision and mastering new skills. You can encourage this development just by engaging with your baby and being aware of any signs that may indicate a problem. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.
How can parents help make sure their newborn’s eyesight is developing properly?
Taking time to engage your baby with lots of eye contact right from birth is good for their development and will help you notice any possible problems with their eyes. If your baby doesn’t seem focus on your face and smile at you by 2 months, this could be a concern. By 4 months, they should be able to follow you or an object with their eyes quite well. Newborns’ eyes can wander or cross often, but this should resolve by 4 to 6 months of age.Karen Gill, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.