Understanding Your Baby's Developing Vision

Your baby's vision will go from blurry to bright in a few months—but when can newborns see clearly? Read on to better understand your baby's developing vision.

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01 of 15

Baby's First Blinks

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The second your baby is born, their vision kicks in—and their visual development begins. At birth, your baby's eyes have the visual acuity of 20/400, but their rapidly developing vision will reach the adult level of 20/20 by the time they are 3-5 years old. That rapid growth is why their first months are so important.

02 of 15

Week 1: Blurry View

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During their first week, your baby can only see objects 8-12 inches in front of their face. This is about the distance from their face to yours while feeding. Babies generally hold their gaze for only a few seconds.

Parent Tip: To encourage strong visual development in both eyes, try alternating sides while feeding. That way, both eyes will be visually stimulated equally. Don't be afraid to get up close and personal with your baby when you're talking with them and/or making faces.

03 of 15

Week 1: It's All Black and White

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Just after birth, your baby sees only in black and white, with shades of gray. As the months go by, your baby will slowly start to develop their color vision, usually around four months.

Parent Tip: Parents love to decorate nurseries in pretty pastels. In reality, these aren't naturally stimulating colors for your baby's vision. Black and white—along with primary colors such as red, yellow, and blue—are much more stimulating. This rule goes the same for baby's toys.

04 of 15

Week 2: Recognition

Newborn Baby Looking Up
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By two weeks, your baby might start to recognize their caregiver's face, focusing on it for a few seconds as you smile and play with them. Just remember to stay within their field of vision: it's still around 8-12 inches. This is where all of that up-close-and-personal time with your child pays off.

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Week 3: Stop and Stare

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At this point, your baby might recognize your face, but they can still only see what's 8-12 inches in front of them. The good news is their attention span might be longer. Up until now, your baby might have stared at your face for only a few seconds. Now they will be able to hold their gaze for up to 10 seconds.

Parent Tip: Even though it might not seem like it, your baby's eyes are changing at a rapid pace. Keep stimulating their vision by talking and making funny, smiling faces. Encourage playtime by placing bold-pattern toys in front of them.

06 of 15

Week 4: Back and Forth

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Baby might start to look at things to either side of them as they move back and forth across their midline, but they'll do this by turning their entire head. Your little one won't be able to look side to side until they're about two-four months.

07 of 15

Monthly Milestones

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It's important to remember that each baby develops at their own rate. The following slides share general guidelines that pediatricians and pediatric ophthalmologists follow to make sure your baby is advancing at a normal pace. From here on, there are milestones doctors look for in your baby's vision to make sure their visual development is on the right track. Because all babies develop differently, you might notice that some of the months and milestones overlap.

08 of 15

1-Month Vision Milestones

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  • Moves eyes and head toward light sources.
  • Tracks objects horizontally across midline (especially faces).
  • Makes eye contact and focuses on a caregiver.

Parent Tip: At one month, a baby's eyes are not very sensitive to light. Don't worry about having the light on or turning it on while your baby naps. It won't affect their ability to sleep.

09 of 15

2- to 3-Month Vision Milestones

Baby Boy Yellow Hat Stuffed Animal
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  • Tracks an object both vertically and circularly.
  • Recognizes faces.
  • Begins to move eyes independently from head.
  • Exhibits increased light sensitivity.
  • Studies hands or feet.
  • Becomes easily distracted by interesting sights.
  • Holds intense eye contact for longer periods of time.

Parent Tip: Now is the time to buy a mobile for above the crib. Your baby will love lying on their back and staring up at the moving objects. At this age, your baby will also watch your lips move as you read, sing, and talk.

10 of 15

3- to 6-Month Vision Milestones

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  • Watches and studies their own hands and feet, as well as toys.
  • Observes toys falling and rolling away.
  • Shifts fixation across midline (moves gaze from left to right).
  • Widens visual sphere of attention gradually.
  • Focuses attention almost across the room.
  • Likes looking at reflection.
  • Moves eyes independently from head.

Parent Tip: At this point, your baby is going to be more interested in toys and pictures, constantly grasping for things that stimulate their vision. Around six months, introduce simple games like rolling a ball back and forth, which boosts hand-eye coordination. Also, encourage visual memory by hiding a toy under a blanket and then revealing it to them.

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7- to 10-Month Vision Milestones

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  • Shows interest in pictures.
  • Notices small bread crumbs. (Hopefully, this will be at their high chair and not on the floor!)
  • Recognizes partially hidden objects.
  • Hand-eye coordination improves as your baby learns to crawl.
12 of 15

11- to 12-Month Vision Milestones

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  • Looks through windows and recognizes people.
  • Recognizes pictures.
  • Plays hide and seek.
  • Appears visually oriented at home.
  • Shows sustained visual interest.
13 of 15

Happy Faces

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Throughout the development of your baby's vision—but especially in their first three-four months—the best visual stimulation is seeing a caregiver's face. There is scientific evidence that babies have a genetic preference for looking at human faces. However, it isn't really our features they like to look at. It's our hairline. Babies like the contrast between our skin and hair colors.

14 of 15

At the Doctor's Office

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Your pediatrician will check out your baby's vision during your scheduled checkups. Most of the time, they'll do it so quickly you might not even know it happened. Because of this, it isn't necessary for your baby to have an eye exam until at least six months of age; a vision screening might not be indicated until age 3. But don't be afraid to ask your pediatrician about the status of your child's eyes during checkups. And if you think there is a problem with your child's eyes before their six-month exam, trust your instincts and see a doctor.

15 of 15

Warning Signs

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Dr. David Coats, a pediatric ophthalmologist and clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, says if a baby's eyes are open, they're developing. However, it's still important to be aware of signs that could prompt reasons to see a doctor. Here are things you might want to watch out for:

  • Crossing of the eye(s): Some crossing is normal in babies in their first few months. But if the eyes are constantly crossed in or out for long periods of time, this could be a problem.
  • Always tilting their head to look at something, which may signal that one eye is developing faster than the other.
  • Excessive tearing.
  • Family history of eye problems.
  • Constant shaking of the eye(s).
  • Structural abnormalities of the eye(s).
  • Bulging eyes.
  • Persistent eye pain, itching, or irritation.
  • Persistent redness in the eye.
  • Drooping eyelids.
  • Extreme sensitivity to light.
  • White, grayish-white, or yellow-color material in the pupil.

Note that moderately or very premature babies are predisposed to vision problems and should be examined by an ophthalmologist before they head home from the hospital.

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