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What Do Babies See?

Upon birth, infants have relatively poor eyesight. But by the time they reach their first birthday, their vision is almost fully formed.

woman with her baby

There are five stages of an infant’s vision development:

  • Birth to 4 months
  • 5 to 8 months
  • 9 to 12 months
  • 1 to 2 years

Most babies start to stare at their parents’ faces when they are just hours old. By the fourth month, infants begin processing the faces of other people.

What Do Babies See? Your Baby’s Vision Development from Birth to 24 Months

Babies do not have fully developed visual abilities at birth, but their vision usually develops quickly during their formative years. 

Unknown to some, parents should play a significant role in developing a baby’s eyesight, so you must know how the baby’s vision develops. It will help you detect any early vision problems in your baby and treat them as soon as possible.

Stages of Your Babies Vision Development

Infants are born with relatively poor eyesight and are generally nearsighted. Babies’ vision usually develops in stages called visual milestones.

They learn to focus on different images and identify different colors at these stages. They can also recognize different objects in their environment. 

The stages of your baby’s eye development include:

  • Birth to 4 months
  • 5 to 8 months
  • 9 to 12 months
  • 1 to 2 years

Birth to 4 Months

Immediately after birth, the infant’s vision is usually blurry but is capable of seeing the faces of their parents. At this stage, they only see things that are eight to 10 inches away.

At eight weeks, the eyes start working in unison, and the baby has stable eye contact. They can see faces clearly and respond to them with facial expressions. By the end of the four months, the baby should be capable of following objects with their eyes.

5 to 8 months

At five months, a baby’s vision develops further, so they can judge how far or close an object is. Their color vision is also advanced, so they can see different colors, including those that look similar. 

At around the 7- to 8-month mark, your baby will start developing motor skills. They also coherently develop their eye-body coordination skills as they learn to walk.

9 to 12 months

Your baby will likely be walking around on their feet at this age. Their motor skills develop further, improving their eye-body coordination.

1 to 2 years

When a child is 1 year old, their visual capabilities, including depth perception, are well developed. They can now recognize familiar objects such as drawings in books.

When Does My Baby See Color?

Babies can see color right from the time you give birth to them. But at this age, their brains cannot distinguish those colors. At around 2 to 4 months, they can differentiate colors with similar shades such as orange and red.

When Can My Baby See Faces?

Most babies will typically start staring at their parents’ faces even when they are just hours old. And by the fourth month, your baby’s brain will begin processing peoples’ faces. At this age, their brain recognizes peoples’ faces faster than it does other objects.

How Parents Can Help with Vision Development

Vision development in infants is a natural process. Nevertheless, a parent’s help is necessary to ensure proper vision development. There are many different things you can do to help develop your baby’s vision at each stage of development.

From Birth to 4 Months

Install night lights in your baby’s room as this will help them get used to the different colors of the light bulbs. Change the position of the baby’s crib from time to time to enable them to view other parts of the room. You can also walk around the room while talking to your baby. It will help move their eyes around.

5 to 8 months

Encourage visual stimulation by hanging objects on the baby’s crib. You can also place the baby on the mat and play games that allow the baby to move different parts of their body.

9 to 12 months

Encourage your child to crawl on the floor at this stage. It would help if you also bought toys such as stack blocks to help improve their motor eye-hand coordination skills.

1 to 2 years

At this stage, your child’s eye-body coordination has improved massively, but it’s still developing. Avail games that will enhance motor skills. Reading and showing them storybooks with drawings is also helpful as it enables them to visualize.

Signs of Eye and Vision Problems in Your Baby

Eye and vision problems are rare among babies, but some may develop complications. The child might present typical eye problem symptoms, such as having watery eyes, blurry vision, and eye squints. 

However, the children may also have other symptoms that you may not notice. The other signs of vision problems in children include:

  • Short attention span
  • Head tilting
  • Eye turning
  • Light sensitivity

They also avoid activities like drawing that requires up-close focus.

Common Eye Issues in Infants

Approximately 3 percent of children have vision problems. The root cause of these vision problems is usually due to abnormal visual development in their formative years. Some of the common eye issues in infants include:

  • Orbital cellulitis: Its a condition affecting the eyeball and the surrounding tissues. It is common in children that have lumps around their eyes.
  • Lazy eye: This happens when one eye has underdeveloped vision compared to the other. Children with eye squint (abnormal eye turns) are at high risk of developing lazy eye disease.
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye): Is a disease-causing inflammation of the outer membrane covering the eyeball. Infants with watery or sticky eyes will most likely have conjunctivitis.

First Eye Exam

A baby should have a comprehensive eye exam before they hit one year. In most cases, a pediatrician (baby doctor) will conduct the eye test, but an eye doctor can also do it. 

The test will primarily involve a screening exam that looks for any structural disorders and infections in the eyes. 

They also check for issues with eye alignment, especially when the baby is six months old. If there are any mild conditions such as pink eye diseases, the pediatrician can treat them. But if the vision problems are more severe, they will refer the baby to an eye doctor.

How to Find a Doctor for My Baby

It is essential to seek a baby doctor three months before your baby is born. When choosing a pediatrician, you should consider the following:

  • A doctor close to your home
  • Recommended by your family doctor
  • Has proper credentials and experience
  • Their office hours are convenient to your schedule

How Often Should Babies Get Eye Exams at Different Ages?

Babies should have regular eye checkups from birth. The test will help detect and manage any eye conditions the child might have. The CDC recommends the following frequency for your child’s eye exam:

  • From birth to 3 months
  • From 6 to 12 months
  • When they are 3 years old
  • When they are 5 years old
Age BracketFrequency of Eye Exam
Birth – 1 yearOnce at age 6 months
1 – 3 yearsOnce at age 3
3 – 5 yearsOnce at age 5
5 years and overOnce after every 1-2 years

FAQs

What is the first thing a baby sees?

Although your baby can technically see at birth, their brains can’t decipher what they are looking at. Which explains why babies can see color but not as well as older people, so they are better at making out objects with black/white and high contrast patterns. 

The first thing they will likely see is you feeding them because babies see objects 8 to 10 inches away from their faces.

What does a 2-week-old baby see?

At two weeks, your baby can start recognizing familiar faces such as their parents. But their vision is still not fully developed, and you will thus need to stand close to them so that they can recognize you.

What can babies see at 1 month?

At one month, your baby can see objects close to them (8 to 10 inches away). However, their eyes are still a bit crossed, and consequently, it makes it difficult for them to focus on distant objects.

References

  1. Child Development. (November 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. Infant cortex responds to other humans from shortly after birth. (October 2013). Scientific Reports.

  3. What can my baby see? Yale Baby School.

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

  5. Hidden signs of vision problems in children. (September 2021). Mayo Clinic.

  6. Common Eye Diseases and Vision Problems. (January 2022). Cleveland Clinic.

  7. Common eye problems among children. (July 2010). London Journal of Primary Care.

  8. Periorbital and Orbital Cellulitis. (January 2020). Jama Network.

  9. When Should Your Child Have a First Eye Exam? (August 2019). Cleveland Clinic.

  10. Your Baby’s Eyes. University of Illinois College of Medicine.

  11. Vision Loss Fact Sheet. (October 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last Updated April 27, 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.