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Vision Health for Babies: A Parent’s Guide

At birth, your baby’s eyes are about 65 percent of the size they will become as an adult. Your baby sees the world in black, white, and gray. 

You can help your baby’s vision develop and take an active role in their vision health by knowing milestones that indicate vision health. Keep reading to learn how to support your baby’s vision, including information on regular exam schedules.

Timeline for Eyesight & Visual Development in Babies

Understanding age-specific milestones can help you be alert, aware, and proactive about your child’s visual development.
Babies learn to see gradually. By understanding their natural development, you can help your baby learn and grow.

Birth 

At birth, poor eyesight is normal, and babies may not see clearly. The eyes may sometimes look crossed and be uncoordinated. 

The baby may blink in response to input, such as a flashlight or bright light. Most babies stare at objects that are held 8 to 10 inches away. 

Babies may be able to fix their eyes on a face or object and follow a moving object.

1 Month

A baby often watches their parents closely at this time. They look at faces and black-and-white pictures. They can often follow an object up to 90 degrees. Tears begin to work. 

2 Months 

Around 2 to 3 months old, the baby follows light well. An infant also begins to look at their hands. This is when babies start to be able to see an object as a single image.

3 Months 

Between 3 and 4 months old is a critical time for visual development in the brain. This is when the brain needs to get clear messages from both eyes. 

4 Months 

The baby begins to reach their hands toward objects. If an object is hanging, it may begin to bat the object with their hands. 

At this time, the baby can stare at a block and recognize a bottle. Around 4 to 5 months, the baby will look at their image in a mirror and their own hand.

5 to 7 Months 

This is when babies often touch their own image in the mirror. The baby may turn their head to see an object.

Babies begin to like specific colors at this time. They have full-color vision around 5 to 7 months and can see at longer distances.

7 Months 

Between 7 and 11 months, a baby often begins to have greater depth perception. They can stare at small objects. This is the time when babies enjoy playing peek-a-boo.

8 Months

Most babies begin to crawl around 8 months. This is a time for exploring the world and developing critical eye-hand-foot coordination. 

Crawling is an important activity for visual development as well as structural development. 

9 Months 

Around 9 months, babies may begin pulling themselves up to a standing position.

10 Months 

By 10 months, a baby should be using their thumb and forefinger to grasp objects.

11 Months

At 11 to 12 months, babies can watch fast-moving objects.

12 to 14 Months 

At this time, babies recognize their own face in the mirror. They can place shapes in proper locations, such as playing with blocks of wood and placing squares in square holes. 

This is also when a baby becomes interested in pictures. Your baby may recognize pictures in books and objects. When you ask where an object is, they may point to the image or object. During this time, your baby communicates by pointing and gesturing for actions and objects.

18 to 24 Months 

At 18 to 24 months, your baby can focus on objects, both close and distant. When asked, your baby can point to body parts, such as their eyes, nose, and hair. 

Babies may imitate drawing a circle or straight line, scribbling with colored crayons or pencils.

Eye-hand coordination and depth perception should be developed by 24 months.

Timeline for Eyesight & Visual Development in Babies

MonthVisual Milestones
BirthPoor eyesight
Uncoordinated eyesStares at objects that are held 8 to 10 inches away
Fix their eyes on a face or object and follow a moving object
1 monthWatches caregivers closely
Looks at faces and pictures
Tears begin to work
2 monthsFollows light
Looks at faces, hands, and object 
Starts seeing an object as a single image
3 monthsCritical time for visual development in the brain
4 monthsStarts to reach hands toward objects
May begin to bat at hanging objects
Can stare at a block and recognize a bottle
Looks at their own hand
Looks at their image in a mirror
5–7 monthsTouches their own image in the mirror
Turns to see an object Likes specific colors
Has full-color vision
Can see at longer distances
7 monthsDepth perception begins
Stares at small objects
Enjoys playing peek-a-boo
8 monthsBegins to crawl and explore more
9 monthsBegins pulling up to a standing position and is able to see more
10 monthsUses thumb and forefinger to grasp objects
11 monthsAble to watch fast-moving objects
12–14 monthsRecognizes their own face in the mirror
Can place shapes in proper locations
Becomes interested in picturesPoints and gestures for objects
18–24 monthsCan focus on objects, both close and distant
Points to body parts, such as the eyes, nose, and hair
Further development of eye-hand coordination and depth perception

How to Help Your Baby’s Vision Develop

You can protect your baby’s eyes and help your baby’s vision develop. Try these tips:

  • Engage. Participate with your baby by making funny faces, playing, and talking to them.
  • Use mobiles to increase engagement. At 2 to 3 months, your baby will start to track objects that move in a circle or vertically. This is a great time to hang a mobile over their crib.
  • Encourage crawling. Crawling develops eye-hand coordination and can be essential for visual development. 
  • Encourage touch. Stimulate your baby with toys, objects, and stuffed animals. Support their visual development by playing with toys and objects. 
  • Shade and protect. Get plenty of hats and UV sunglasses to protect from bright sun. Use glasses and hats when you spend time outside.

Warning Signs of Potential Vision Problems

Eye and vision problems are rare in infants, but warning signs include the following:

  • Eye turning
  • Eye tearing
  • Red, crusty eyelids
  • Severe light sensitivity
  • Light-colored pupil

If you’re concerned about your baby’s eyes, make an appointment with your pediatrician. They may review you to a pediatric ophthalmologist. 

Eye Health Issues That Impact Babies 

Common eye issues in children are turned eyes, eyelid swelling, lazy eye, and blocked tear ducts. Some children may need strong glasses to see clearly at a very early age.

Turned Eye or Squint (Strabismus)

Strabismus is a condition where the eyes point in different directions. It is sometimes called turned eye or squint. The eyes may be pointed in opposite directions, at each other, up, or down. 

It can be present at birth or develop as the child grows. 

Treatment may often involve a combination of glasses, an eye patch, eye exercises, and/or surgery. 

Children do not outgrow strabismus. The goal of treatment is to achieve good vision and coordinated eye movement for depth perception.

Chalazion 

A chalazion is a swelling in the upper or lower eyelid. The glands of the upper or lower eyelid are blocked, and there may also be redness and yellowish ooze.

Your child can have this one or both eyes. For initial treatment, see your family doctor.

Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)

Amblyopia is where one eye is not as active as the other. It may have other causes such as strabismus, refractive error, droopy eyelid, or a clouding of the eye’s lens. 

Treatment is often patching the eye and prescription glasses. When treatment is started early, vision can often improve.

Blocked Tear Duct (Epiphora)

Epiphora is also called watering eyes. This happens when a tear duct is blocked, and the condition may resolve on its own. If it is a recurring problem, a small surgery can often effectively treat the condition. 

Refractive Error

Some refractive errors may need prescriptive eyewear or surgery. 

The three most common refractive errors are astigmatism, nearsightedness, and farsightedness.

When to See a Doctor

If you notice any of the following in your baby, see a doctor:

  • Pupils appearing unusual or a whitish color
  • Persistent discharge or watering eyes
  • One eye turning frequently
  • Eyes that don’t seem to move well or seem uncoordinated
  • One eye looking larger
  • Always tilting or turns in one direction
  • Sitting very close to objects

Your doctor can evaluate your baby’s vision with noninvasive visual screening tests and determine if further assessment or treatment is needed.

Screen Time & Your Baby

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the current recommendation is that babies under 18 months get minimal to no screen time

Between 18 and 24 months, screen time should continue to be minimal. During this time, screens are only recommended if a parent is involved, talking to the baby and reteaching them lessons from educational media.

Follow these practical tips for screen time for your children:

  • Model good screen habits. Lead by example and put the screen down. Make time to connect, relate, and engage with your child.
  • Set limits. Have clear boundaries according to time and environment. For instance, have dinner time be screen-free time to be with your family.
  • Make it social. Use media in limited situations, such as video-chatting with family members.
  • Be consistent. Set standards, stick to them, and encourage consistent habits.

How to Protect Your Baby’s Vision

Take daily steps to protect your baby’s vision:

  • Practice healthy diet habits. Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and nutrients supports eye health and overall health.
  • Wear UV sunglasses. When you’re outside, wear sunglasses for protection.

How Often Should My Baby’s Eyes Be Checked?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, eye exams are recommended for newborns, at 6 to 12 months, and at 12 to 36 months. 

Newborn Exam

A doctor or health professional assesses basic eye health. The tests may include testing reflexes to light, pupil response, and blinking. 

If there is a family history of childhood eye diseases, premature birth, or signs of eye conditions, you may be referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist.

6–12 Months

This second screening should be done as part of a well-child exam. Usually, this exam is done between 6 and 12 months of age. 

Your healthcare provider will visually inspect the eyes, check for eye alignment, assess eye coordination, and test reflexes. 

12–36 Months

At this exam, your child will be checked for healthy eye development. Your doctor may use a special camera to screen your child’s vision, known as photoscreening. The pictures are used to diagnose problems that can lead to conditions such as lazy eye.

Vision Health for Babies FAQs

How do you know if your baby has vision problems?

Vision problems in babies are often discovered through standard vision screening tests, performed after birth, between 6 and 12 months, and again between 12 and 36 months. Other signs of vision issues in babies include eye tracking differently, drooping eyelid, bulging eye, squinting, light sensitivity, or tilting their head.

How can I improve my baby’s eyesight?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, limiting screen time can help you improve your baby’s visual development. 

Age-appropriate engagement, such as hanging mobiles and playing with toys, supports visual development.

How do you test a baby’s eyesight?

Most pediatricians do vision screenings for newborns, between 6 and 12 months, and again between 12 and 36 months. You can also take your baby to a doctor of optometry at about 6 months of age.

InfantSEE is a public health program that offers comprehensive infant eye exams for children between 6 and 12 months of age. Participating optometrists offer this as a no-cost public service.

References

  1. Infant Vision Birth to One Year. Nationwide Children’s.

  2. Age-Appropriate Vision Milestones. Stanford Children’s Hospital.

  3. Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age. American Optometric Association.

  4. Eye Examinations and Visual Screening. Stanford Children’s Hospital.

  5. Common Eye Problems In Children. Kids Health.

  6. Strabismus. American Optometric Association.

  7. Understanding, Detecting, and Managing Strabismus. (March 2010). Community Eye Health Journal.

  8. Chalazion. (July 2022). StatPearls.

  9. Amblyopia. (May 2022). StatPearls.

  10. Pediatric Refractive Errors. Children’s National.

  11. Types of Visual Screening Tests for Infants and Children. Stanford Children’s Hospital.

  12. Time Spent Outdoors in Childhood Is Associated With Reduced Risk of Myopia as an Adult. (March 2021). Scientific Reports.

  13. Healthy Digital Media Use Habits for Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers. Healthy Children.

  14. What Is Too Much Screen Time for Kids? (May 2022). Cleveland Clinic.

  15. Associations Between Screen Exposure in Early Life and Myopia Amongst Chinese Preschoolers. (February 2020). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

  16. Eye Examination in Infants, Children, and Young Adults by Pediatricians. (April 2003). Ophthalmology.

  17. Five Steps to: Paediatric Vision Screening. (June 2018). Paediatrics & Child Health.

  18. Vision Screening in Children Aged 6 Months to 5 Years. (September 2017). JAMA.

  19. Eye Screening for Children. American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  20. Photoscreening. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

  21. InfantSEE. American Optometric Association Foundation.

Last Updated September 7, 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.