Babies are not born with much eyesight. Instead, the sense of vision develops in stages over the first two years of life.
There are four distinct stages for vision. Infants learn how to focus, develop depth perception, discover hand-eye coordination and learn how to recognize objects and people.
Genetic problems and pre-birth issues related to their mothers can hinder vision development. Doctors recommend children get their eyes examined around the 1-year-old mark.
Babies learn to see over time, just as they learn to walk and talk. They do not have visual abilities at birth because a baby must discover how to move their eyes accurately, focus and use their eyes together as a team.
It also takes a baby time to learn how to use the information their eyes are sending to the brain in order to understand the world they live in.
A baby’s exploration of the world begins at birth, long before they learn how to reach for and grab with their hands. This journey occurs before they learn how to crawl or sit up as their eyes provide them with stimulation and information as an important piece to their development.
Stages in Infant Vision Development
When infants are born, they cannot see as well as children or adults. Their visual system is not fully developed, but they will develop eyesight, and increasingly improved vision, during the first few months.
Infants do not all develop at the same pace, and the same is true for their vision abilities. The general outline of an infant’s vision development comes in stages:
- From birth to 4 months old
- 5 to 8 months
- 9 to 12 months
- 1 to 2 years
Birth to 4 Months of Age
When an infant is born, everything that happens to them or in front of them stimulates them. But while you may catch them looking intently at your face or another object, they have not yet developed the ability to tell the difference between two objects or targets. During this time, they cannot move their eyes between two images. From birth to four months, an infant’s primary focus is on objects or targets within 10 inches of their face.
During the first couple of months after birth, an infant’s eyes will not be coordinated, and you may notice their eyes crossing or wandering. These movements are typical, but if the movements are constant, you should consult with your doctor.
Also in the first few months, an infant’s eyes will begin working together, which is when their vision will improve. You will begin to see eye-hand coordination develop as the infant tracks objects and reaches out for them.
By the eighth week, an infant can focus more easily with their eyes on the face of someone who’s holding them or is nearby.
5 to 8 Months of Age
Between an infant’s fifth and eighth month of life, their eye movements along with eye-body coordination will continue to improve. They will also develop depth perception, which gives them the ability to determine if an object is close or far away. By the 5th month, an infant should be able to form a three-dimensional view of their world.
While an infant between five and eight months does not have vision that is as sensitive as an adult’s, they have quality color vision.
When a baby begins to crawl around eight months of age, it will further help them develop eye-hand-foot-body coordination. If a child is an early walker and did not spend much time crawling, they may not learn to use their eyes together as well as a baby who spends more time crawling.
9 to 12 Months of Age
Between nine and 12 months of age, a baby should begin pulling themselves up into a standing position. Around their 10th month, they should be able to grasp objects with their forefinger and thumb.
When a children reach the 1 year mark, they should be crawling adequately and beginning to walk. You should encourage your young child to crawl rather than walk early as it will help improve their eye-hand coordination. By the 12th month, a baby can judge distances and throw objects with precision.
1 to 2 Years of Age
Between a child’s first and second year, they should have developed depth-perception and good eye-hand coordination. During this time, your child is highly interested in exploring their world as well as listening and looking at what is around them.
Also, during this age time, your child should be recognizing familiar objects. A child in this age group should also be recognizing objects in books and be able to scribble with a pencil or crayon.
Signs of Vision Development Problems: What to Look For
Rarely do infants experience vision problems. Most begin life with healthy eyes.
From birth, infants develop visual abilities they will need to use throughout life. Occasionally they may have a vision issue or have their eye health compromised.
As a parent, you can look for signs of potential problems. Such as:
- An eye or eyes that are constantly turning may indicate problems with eye muscle control
- A white pupil can be an indication of cancer being present in the eye
- If your child’s eye shows excessive tearing, they could have a blocked eye duct
- If you notice your child having problems with lights, or shows signs of light sensitivity, it could be a sign of elevated pressure in their eye
- Encrusted or red eyelids can be a sign of an infection
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, you should contact your pediatrician immediately.
Potential Vision Issues
Infants could experience vision impairments at birth, known as congenital issues. Vision problems can also develop later because of:
- Genetic or development disorders
- Drug-related issues
- Alcohol-related problems
- Other causes
Genetic or Developmental Disorders
Infants may have an eye issue because of an atypical formation of their eyes. This formation could be the result of a genetic condition or happen during pregnancy. Forms of these issues include cataracts, albinism, or retinitis pigmentosa.
If a woman takes certain drugs during pregnancy, such as seizure medications or cocaine, it could cause an ocular malformation in their unborn child. A study has shown if an infant is exposed to certain substances while in their mother’s womb, they are more likely to experience eye disorders such as ocular muscle disorder or binocular movement disorders.
If a mother drinks alcohol excessively during her pregnancy, it could cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which is responsible for causing developmental problems including visual impairment, blindness, ptosis or droopy eyelid, changes in the eyelids or abnormal eye movement.
Infections that can occur during a mother’s pregnancy include toxoplasmosis (TORCH), cytomegalovirus, herpes, rubella, and others that can cause inflammation in an unborn child resulting in abnormalities of their eyes.
Other causes that can result in the development of eye issues in infants include:
- Opthalmia neonatorum
- ROP (retinopathy of prematurity)
- Shaken baby syndrome
- Lazy eye, or amblyopia
What Parents Can Do to Help Infants with Visual Development
Parents can help their infant’s vision develop properly in a few ways. What kind of help works depends on what stage their child’s vision is in.
Birth to 4 Months of Age
- Use a dim light or nightlight in the baby’s room.
- Move your baby’s crib, as well as their sleeping position, frequently.
- Keep toys within eight to twelve inches from them so they are inside of their focus range.
- When you walk around the baby’s room, and they are in their crib, talk to them.
- Change from your left to right side when feeding.
5 to 8 Months of Age
- Hang different objects on their crib, such as mobiles, crib gym, or other objects for them to pull, grab, and kick at.
- Allow your baby a lot of time to explore and play on the floor.
- Give your young child wooden or plastic toys they can hold in their hands.
- Play games like patty cake with your child so their hands go through different motions as you say words out loud.
9 to 12 Months of Age
- To help your baby develop visual memory, play games such as hide and seek with your face or toys.
- When you talk with your baby, use names for objects to help them learn word association and develop their vocabulary skills.
- Encourage your baby to creep and crawl.
1 to 2 Years of Age
- To help your child learn how to track objects visually, use an object such as a ball to roll back and forth.
- To increase your child’s fine motor skills, allow them to play with balls and blocks of different sizes.
- Tell or read stories to your child to stimulate their ability to visualize. These activities also create a way for your child to learn and read.
When Does a Baby Get Eye Color?
When you talk about a baby’s eye color, it refers to the appearance of their iris. The iris is the muscular ring around the pupil that controls how much light enters the eye.
The pupil is always black, except in certain photos, and a healthy sclera is white. The iris, just like skin and hair color, depends on melanin, which is a protein.
There are special cells in our bodies known as melanocytes, and it is their job to secrete melanin. Because it takes about a year for these cells to finish their job, it can be up to your baby’s first birthday before eye color is definite. While the color change slows down after about the first six months of your baby’s life, it can still change after this point.
The color of a child’s eyes is a genetic property, but it is not the final determinant of what your child’s eye color will be.
When to Get Your Baby’s Eyes Checked
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that infants have their first comprehensive eye exam when they are six months old. If you suspect there may be an issue with your infant’s eyes, you should have it done sooner.
What is a baby’s vision at 1 month?
When a baby is about one month old, they can begin holding eye contact. Your baby must be calm and alert to hold this contact.
What is a baby’s vision at 1 week old?
During your baby’s first week of life, they will only see objects within twelve inches of their face. Typically, a child this young will only hold a gaze for a few seconds.
When do babies get full vision?
A child’s vision does not get close to 20/20 until they reach the age of 3. Their depth perception will continue to develop through 4 to 6 years of age.
Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age. American Optometric Association.
Impact of Prenatal Exposure to Opioids, Cocaine, and Cannabis on Eye Disorders in Children. (December 2020). Journal of Addiction Medicine.
Retinopathy of Prematurity: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. Orbis.org.
Ophthalmia neonatorum. (August 2020). The College of Optometrists.
Lazy eye (amblyopia). (August 2021). Mayo Clinic.
What is Crossed Eye or Strabismus. Amblyoplay.com.
Shaken baby syndrome (February 2022). Mayo Clinic.
What Color Will My Baby’s Eyes Be? (July 2021). Healthychildren.org.
Parent’s Guide to Baby’s Vision Development. (2022). Pathways.org
Understanding Your Baby’s Developing Vision. (December 2021). Parents.
Last Updated April 19, 2022
Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.
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