Vision Quest: Your Baby's Eyes

Your baby looks beautiful to you, but how do you -- and the rest of the world -- look to him? A peek at how eyesight develops.

Introduction

Imagine peering at everything around you through a layer of Vaseline. That's how the world looks to your newborn -- just a jumble of vague shapes and shades.

But it won't be a blur for long. Soon he'll be able to spot a single Cheerio in a bowl (and guide it expertly into his mouth), and become transfixed by a colorfully dressed passerby on the street. How a baby's eyesight develops is a fascinating story -- here's a closer look.

The Shape of Things to Come

Your baby's vision is fuzzy in her earliest weeks, says Susan Day, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmologist at California Pacific Medical Center, in San Francisco. There's evidence that if something is within arm's length (8 to 15 inches) of a newborn's face, she can make it out pretty well, and that she's particularly interested in human faces. That's good news: It means that when you're holding or nursing your child, she's got a fairly clear view of you.

There are simple ways to keep your infant visually stimulated. Take her with you when you go to the grocery store (she'll be fascinated by all the packages, even if they're blurry), or let her big brother or sister make silly faces at her.

Speaking of funny faces, a newborn's eyes often wander or cross -- or even roll back in her head as she's falling asleep, leaving only the whites visible.

It may be alarming to watch, but it's perfectly normal and should subside around the end of the second month, as her muscle control improves and she learns how to focus.

Around that same time, at about 6 weeks, she'll also start perfecting her "tracking" skills -- the ability to follow an object with her eyes if it moves slowly in front of her. Try this: While your child faces you, tilt your head first to one side, then to the other. She'll follow your face as you move your head. Her eye movements may be a little jerky, but by the time she's 3 months old, she'll track fairly smoothly.

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