Updated on January 26th, 2024 // by Katie Griffin
Your baby’s eyesight has been slowly developing since the fourth week of pregnancy. While in the womb, they are able to perceive light and can even open their eyes…though there isn’t much to look at in there. Once they are born, however, that quickly changes. Their eyes and brain undergo rapid development to begin to make sense of the world around them. Let’s journey together through this first year and discover how your baby sees the world as they grow.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Table of contents
- Baby Eyesight Development
- 1- 2 Months: Starting to Focus
- 5 – 8 Months: Exploring With Greater Clarity
- 9 – 12 Months: A View Into Their World
- What can I do to help my baby’s eyesight development?
- When Should I Get My Baby’s Eyesight Checked?
- If You See Any of These Signs, Let Your Doctor Know Right Away
Because babies can’t clearly communicate what they see, we can’t know exactly how they perceive things. But doctors and scientists have learned a lot about how the eyes develop, and we know approximately what they can see at different ages.
Baby Eyesight Development
Birth to 1 Month: A Blurry Beginning
A baby’s eyesight when they’re born is quite blurry, and their eyes will be sensitive to the new bright light around them. They can see objects and people, but only those within 8 to 12 inches away – just about the distance to your face when you’re cuddling or feeding them. This limited range is perfect for those early bonding moments. Your baby can see high-contrast patterns best, so they may be more interested in black and white toys.
Babies this age can’t focus on much or track moving objects yet. They will have the easiest time focusing on objects with highly contrasting colors or shapes (like black and white or stripes and spots). They also like looking at faces, so getting up close and looking at your baby is important.
1- 2 Months: Starting to Focus
By the time your baby is a month old, he will be able to start focusing on objects about 3 feet away. He still can’t tell the difference between two objects or move his eyes between them, but he will begin tracking movement with his eyes. Babies begin to develop their hand-eye coordination by reaching for objects in front of them.
You may notice that your baby’s eyes cross, wander, or turn out sometimes. This is usually due to the fact that his eye muscles aren’t very strong yet. If you see this happening constantly, however, let your doctor know. Also, let your doctor know if it persists past four months of age.
2 to 3 Months: Discovering a World of Color
By the time they reach 2 to 3 months, babies start to see colors better. While they won’t appreciate the full spectrum right away, they can discern bright colors like red and blue. You might notice your baby starting to follow objects with their eyes and react to familiar faces, which means their visual tracking is improving.
During this time your baby may start to recognize familiar faces around him. It is important to look at your baby often and make eye contact with him. Studies have shown not only that babies love the engagement, but that their brains are more active during mutual gaze.
5 – 8 Months: Exploring With Greater Clarity
As their eye muscles develop, their ability to control their eye movements develop too. They will develop depth perception during this time as well as the ability to see colors.
Babies who start to crawl begin to strengthen their eye-hand-foot-body coordination. This movement helps babies learn to use their eyes together to send signals to the brain, which then sends signals to the body to move accordingly. This process is extremely important for your baby’s development, so encourage crawling as long as possible.
Babies at this age need toys and blocks that can be held and played with. Give them time to play and explore on their own on the floor. You may want to provide a baby gym or crib attachment that your baby can grab, pull and kick. Playing games and singing songs with hand movements (like patty cake) with your baby also strengthens important skills.
9 – 12 Months: A View Into Their World
As your baby approaches their first birthday, their eyesight is close to adult vision in terms of clarity and depth perception. His ability to judge distances will greatly improve, which will lead him to crawl if he hasn’t already, pull himself up to a standing position, grasp objects between his thumb and forefinger, and maybe even walk.
Your baby will also continue developing his visual memory during this time. Playing hide and seek with your face or a toy will help strengthen that memory. You can also begin naming objects out loud to your baby throughout the day to begin vocabulary development and word association.
Continue to give your baby toys and objects of all shapes and sizes to play with and explore. Roll balls back and forth to strengthen his ability to track objects, and read him books, tell stories, and sing songs to encourage his ability to visualize.
What can I do to help my baby’s eyesight development?
Let Them Explore
Let your baby have plenty of time to explore on their own. Provide toys and objects of different sizes, textures, colors, and sounds. Spend time outside as well as inside strengthens baby’s eyesight by letting them get used to seeing objects near and far. Let them practice reaching for objects, holding them, passing them between their hands or from their feet to their hands, picking them up, and throwing them. All of these things are important steps in creating connections between their eyes, body, and brain.
Look at Them
We know that from birth, babies prefer looking at human faces and show increased brain activity when making eye contact. Babies learn by looking at our faces and begin mimicking facial expressions soon after birth. Getting on the same level as your baby and engaging with them frequently is a powerful way to communicate, teach, and encourage their growth and development.
Talk and Play With Them
Children learn best through play, so join them! Hand games like the itsy bitsy spider and patty cake help strengthen hand-eye coordination. Playing peekaboo strengthens their visual memory. Pointing at objects and saying their names encourages word association and vocabulary development. Rolling objects back and forth helps them learn to track movement. Reading books and telling stories helps your child learn to visualize. Even passing toys back and forth between you and your baby can help them develop important hand-eye-brain connections.
When Should I Get My Baby’s Eyesight Checked?
Your newborn’s eyes should be checked before they leave the hospital for problems like infections, defects, cataracts, and glaucoma. They will be checked again by their doctor during well-child visits. During these appointments, the doctor will check their overall eye health, make sure that their vision is developing normally, and check that the alignment of their eyes is correct.
Optometrists recommend that babies have their first eye examination sometime between 6 and 12 months. These more thorough eye exams look at both baby’s eyesight — screening for nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatisms, eye movement ability, eye alignments — and overall eye health. There is even a public health program that provides these assessments for free. See the InfantSEE website to find a participating optometrist.
If You See Any of These Signs, Let Your Doctor Know Right Away
- Red or encrusted eyelids
- An enlarged or bulging eye
- Eyes turning in, or away from each other constantly
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- A white or cloudy pupil
As you watch your baby’s world expand from a blur of shapes and lights into a vivid landscape filled with color, movement, and life, remember, each child’s development is unique. There’s so much joy in witnessing every little discovery and progress they make. Keep offering them new sights to explore, and enjoy watching them marvel at the world around them. Here’s to a year full of beautiful sights and shared smiles!
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- Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age. (n.d.). American Optometric Association. https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-health-for-life/infant-vision?sso=y
- Shelov, S. P. (2010).Your Baby’s First Year. Bantam Books
- Mukamal, R. (2019 Dec). 20 Things to Know About Children’s Eyes and Vision. American Academy of Opthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/tips-children-eyes-vision
- Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age. American Optometric Association. https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-health-for-life/infant-vision?sso=y
- Farroni, T., Csibra, G., Simion, F., & Johnson, M. H. (2002). Eye contact detection in humans from birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 99(14), 9602-9605. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.152159999
- Vision Screenings. (2016 July). American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/eyes/Pages/Vision-Screenings.aspx#:~:text=As%20part%20of%20each%20well,At%203%20to%204%20years.