Every Day Care

The Development of Eyesight


How does eye sight develop? We've done some research to find out on behalf of all you new parents out there..

During the first weeks of life your newborn may seem to do little more than eat, sleep, cry, and provide dirty diapers for you to clean up. But in reality, all of your infant's senses are functioning already, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this new world.

What can my newborn actually see?

Babies are born with eyes that are ready to function immediately. Even premature babies can see at birth since the seeing elements of the eye are working by seven months of gestation. The body of a newborn may be small but its eyes are 70 percent of adult size.

A newborn baby's eyes are not great at focusing and the optimum distance for seeing an object is between eight and fifteen inches. This corresponds to the distance between the mother and child's face while breastfeeding - whether by design or accident is unknown but there is a good chance this ideal distance evolved because of breastfeeding.

Newborn infants are fascinated by black-and-white contrast, not by all those lovely little pictures of Donald Duck and Jack and Jill going up the hill.


Colour Vision

The ability to distinguish between different colours is probably not very good until at least three months of age. By age two months babies do notice colors of red, orange, green and yellow. Shortly thereafter are able to see blues. This is why newborns tend to become attracted to contrasts of dark and light rather than brightly colored objects and they prefer patterns with curved lines rather than straight. It is this fascination in light/dark contrasts that have made the black-and-white newborn mobiles and toys so popular.

Seeing Faces

Another interesting aspect of a newborn's vision is that it allows for preference of human faces. In fact, there is a portion of the brain that seems to be dedicated to facial recognition. Newborn babies are naturally attracted even to rough sketches of human faces. This specific recognition mechanism helps facilitate bonding between the mother and child, particularly during breastfeeding. At age three to four months he will be able to tell your face from a strangers and his face will light up when he sees you. After human faces, brightness and movement are the things a newborn likes to look at best.

Although your baby's sight is functioning, it still needs some fine tuning, especially when it comes to focusing on more distant objects. Most parents are familiar with the cross-eyed look newborn babies can give! This is normal, and your newborn's eye muscles will strengthen and mature during the next few months. Babies quickly learn to focus, or accommodate. so that by six weeks of age they can focus at a distance of one to two feet. By age four months they can see objects that are close or far almost as well as an adult can and by age six months they will see as clearly as they ever will.

How Blurry is Blurry

Research conducted at Smith-KettlewelI Eye Research Institute (San Francisco) and at the University of California (Berkeley), among other places, have measured visual acuity in many babies and toddlers. We have found that in the first month of life, babies have a visual acuity of about 20/120. That means that if they could read, they would be able to read the big "E" on an eye chart.

Perception of depth

Newborn babies do not have good depth perception. They do not have full ability to see things in three dimensions. There are special cells in the brain called binocular cells that receive input from the left and right eyes which are responsible for the development of good depth perception. The baby must also be able to coordinate his two eyes so that they point in the same direction. He can do this to some extent right from birth but not perfectly well until age three to five months.

Should I Be Concerned?

If you just want a little reassurance that your baby's senses are working well, you can do some unscientific testing for yourself. Hold a small light just out of your baby's direct line of vision, about a foot away from his or her face. Your baby should turn to look at the light. Don't be too worried if it doesn't hold his or her attention for too long - even a brief look at the light indicates that he or she is seeing it. In just 4 to 8 weeks, your newborn baby's eyes will begin to follow a moving light.

If your baby's eyes seem to cross more than just briefly, be sure to tell your baby's doctor. Usually no intervention is necessary, but medical correction sometimes will be required. Also tell the doctor if your baby's eyes appear cloudy or filmy, or if they appear to wander in circles as they attempt to focus.

If you have any concerns about your newborn's ability to see, talk to your baby's doctor or an ophthalmologist immediately. Even newborns can be tested using sophisticated equipment, if necessary. The sooner a potential problem is caught, the better.

You should also report to your doctor any excessive watering of the eyes or excessive discharge, since these may be symptoms of a blocked tear duct or a bout of bacterial conjunctivitis. Older children (from 2 years onwards) can be treated for conjunctivitis using antibacterial eyedrops or ointment which are available at your local pharmacy - 
click here for more information.

It's a good idea to give your infant lots of interesting sights to look at, but don't overdo it. One item at a time is plenty. And don't forget to move your infant around a bit during the day to provide a needed change of scenery.


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