This post is rather timely for me because over the last 7+ months, I’ve been observing my own baby’s visual milestones. Shortly after my baby was first born, I subtly snapped my fingers in front of her eyes. Maybe this behavior seems a bit compulsive, but not really for an eye doctor. I was delighted to catch her attention. Over the next few weeks I wasn’t as concerned with her vision as I was with sneaking in a few hours of sleep. But every time I’d perform my intentional (yes, intentional) vision checks, nothing was out of the ordinary, which is normal. Now, I’ve seen many, many eyes over the course of several years in my profession, but I’ve never been able to follow a patients eyes from day one. That said, it’ll be exciting to see what the future holds.

What can baby see as a newborn?

To state the obvious, the visual system in humans isn’t fully developed at birth. It’s not even close. However, vision in newborns can be assessed as early as one week. This can be done using high contrast tools such as black and white mobiles or patterns seen in certain types of baby books. Red colors are also visible to baby’s newfound sense of vision. That said, it’s probably best to show baby black and white pattern (or pictures) with splashed of red (or red dots) mixed in. Think of dangling toys on the stroller or in the crib to catch baby’s attention. In all actuality, it won’t seem like baby is learning much of anything at this point, but baby is taking in so much of the surrounding environment. Preferred viewing distance for these types of toys is less than ten inches away from his/her face. Baby’s eyes may even seem crossed at times, but this is totally normal. If crossed eyes become constant, an eye exam should be scheduled immediately.

By one month, spatial acuity can be tested. By six months, infants are able to see clearly and 20/20 can be confirmed with special vision tests. However, a true 20/20 outcome on the actual vision chart cannot be confirmed until at least three of four years of age. In the meantime, it’s fascinating (at least to me) to understand what may or may not stimulate baby’s vision for the first year of life and beyond.

  • At three months+
  • Over the first three months of baby’s short life, baby’s eyesight develops rather quickly. Baby’s eyes start working together in unison and baby even starts to show signs of hand/eye coordination. Also during this process, baby should be able to focus on familiar faces (parent(s), relative), follow an object with baby’s eyes, and begin to reach for any given object.

  • Months five to eight
  • At birth, baby had almost no depth perception at all. But around month five or six, baby starts to judge distances between objects. This is actually a significant development as baby start to discover his/her surroundings. To go along with this new sense of depth, baby is gaining more control of eye and body movements and baby is also starting to see colors more distinctly. At this point, it’s probably a good idea to introduce books or simple toys with bright colors. One a positive note, around this time baby starts to smile and laugh a bit, which is definitely a good thing for new parents who’ve been worn out by baby (up until this point). Baby will also start to notice his/her reflection in the mirror and copy some of the silly faces you make.

    I should also point out that baby’s first eye exam should take place around this time. Even if no vision problems are detected, at six months, baby should see the eye doctor for the first time. At this young age, eye health issues are uncommon, but it’s a good idea to stay on the safe side. If there does happen to be an issue with baby’s vision, the outcome may be more favorable if treatment begins early.

  • Rounding out the first year
  • Around 9+ months, baby will start to explore movement. This means a lot of crawling will take place and baby may even begin to pull his/herself into a standing position with the help of household objects or toys. At this point, it’s a good idea to “baby-proof” your living space so baby doesn’t come away with an eye injury or something worse. As far as coordination is concerned, it’s probably better for baby to stay on the ground and crawl as much as possible. This is good for baby’s visual development, eye/hand coordination and general body awareness. Furthermore, baby’s sense of depth will increase over this time period. For instance, something might catch baby’s attention all the way across the room. Baby will then proceed to crawl over to it for further investigation.

  • Between one and two years
  • After the first year, baby should be well on his/her way to a life of healthy vision. That said, baby’s sense of sight should be the starting point for all types of learning. At this point, it’s a good idea to introduce more advanced books, especially ones with lots of colorful objects. It’s also good to connect objects seen in books with objects seen in real life.

Warning signs in baby’s visual development:

According to the *American Optometric Association (AOA), “The presence of eye and vision problems in infants is rare. Most babies begin life with healthy eyes and start to develop the visual abilities they will need throughout life without difficulty. But occasionally, eye health and vision problems can develop. Parents need to look for the following signs that may be indications of eye and vision problems.”

  • Excessive tearing – this may indicate blocked tear ducts
  • Red or encrusted eye lids – this could be a sign of an eye infection
  • Constant eye turning – this may signal a problem with eye muscle control
  • Extreme sensitivity to light – this may indicate an elevated pressure in the eye
  • Appearance of a white pupil – this may indicate the presence of an eye cancer

The AOA suggest that “the appearance of any of these signs should require immediate attention by your pediatrician or optometrist”

*Credit the American Optometric Association (AOA) as a source for this topic >>>