Your Guide to Baby's Vision and Hearing

How the world comes into focus during the first year.

A Whole New World

side view of pale blonde baby girl

One of the many joys of being a pediatrician is smiling into a baby's eyes, making "baby talk," and watching his face light up as he smiles back and squeals with delight. We're getting to know one another, and this helps me gain some important information about the baby's vision and hearing.

Normal vision and hearing are essential for a baby's development. He needs to see well to explore new objects or take those first baby steps. And for normal speech to develop, he must first hear the sounds and words we use to communicate. Indeed, there is strong evidence that early intervention for babies with hearing or vision problems can make all the difference in their development. But identifying problems often requires acute observation from both doctors and parents. And understanding how babies see and hear will help you know when something "just isn't right."

What Can My Newborn See?

Newborns can't see clearly at birth. In fact, vision is about 20/400, making the first days of sight very blurry, like a camera out of focus. But within a week, a baby can focus on objects about 8 to 12 inches from his face. Conveniently, this is about the distance between a mother and baby's face during feeding, making it a great time for getting to know each other. As for the age-old question of how colorful a newborn's world is, we now know that babies can see color right from the start if the color is very bright.

Is My Baby's Vision Normal?

A great test of vision is just having some up-close and personal time with your baby, who by 4 to 6 weeks of age should be gazing intently into your eyes and mimicking your facial expressions. Open your mouth and stick your tongue out, and watch your baby do the same. By 3 months her vision is closer to 20/40. This means she can see almost everything in her field of vision. As a result, you'll notice your infant watch the world more and more intently with each passing day. Your baby can now see colors in different hues and has improved depth perception, which will be evident as she gazes at the colorful mobile circling over the crib. Just don't expect your child to appreciate a pastel-colored toy before about 4 to 6 months. By 4 months, you'll also notice her staring at her hand, and after 6 months she may be able to see well across any room with 20/20 vision.

What Can I Do to Stimulate My Baby's Vision?

It will develop naturally, but you can make sure he has something interesting to see. Infants love looking at faces and respond best to contrasting patterns and bright colors, so place these types of toys and pictures in your baby's line of sight. As your baby grows, keep changing his scenery by taking walks and visiting new places. A trip to an art museum can be a feast for his eyes as well as yours.

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