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You are here: Home > Baby > Baby Development

Newborns and Eyesight: What Can My Baby See?

by Dianna Graveman | September 21, 2012 9:44 AM0 Comments

Many years ago, doctors and scientists thought newborns were not able to see much in the first days and weeks after birth. Those early ideas about newborn eyesight are changing, and new information has led many parents to react a little differently to their newborns than did their parents and grandparents.

If it seems your brand new baby stares up at your face intently, you are probably not imagining things, according to WebMD. Newborns can see objects very clearly at eight to fifteen inches away. And they most love to look at facial features and contrasting objects with defined edges (like black and white shapes).

According to Dr. Russell D. Hamer of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Center, however, the optical parts of a newborn's eyes are actually capable of focusing on objects at any distance. The problem comes in because very young babies do not have full control of the eye muscles called the ciliary muscles, so during the first few months, they cannot focus accurately on objects farther away. After about two months, those muscles begin to develop and they can focus more clearly at greater distances, although there is still more improvement to come.

Even after all the parts of the baby's eye are focusing well, she probably will not distinguish between minor details -- mainly because the part of her brain responsible for vision acuity is still developing. Although the baby's eye may focus an object clearly on her retina, the part of her brain responsible for interpreting what she sees is too immature to transmit that clear image.

A new baby's eyesight improves quickly and drastically. Although research has shown newborns to have vision acuity of about 20/120 at birth, by eight months, the vision acuity for many babies can have improved to about 20/30 -- almost as good as an adult with no vision problems.

What about colors? By about eights months, most babies can see pretty well, and their sensitivity to light and contrast improves even faster than their eyesight. By the time your baby is eight or nine weeks old, she will be able to tell the difference between two shades of gray almost as well as an adult can. During the first month, your baby can see different colors, although light pastels may look the same to her. Some parents have claimed their young babies prefer one color to another, but it is probably very difficult to actually tell what colors your baby prefers. He may simply be attracted to the brightness or contrast of an object against its surroundings.

In recent years, some parenting articles have suggested that since very young babies recognize contrasts between colors more than actual colors, parents should outfit the nursery with black and white toys and geometric shapes. Black and white patterns present a very high contrast and are probably the easiest for newborns to see. But within weeks, as your baby begins to distinguish differences between colors and even shades of colors, a natural environment with rich colors works just fine -- and will eventually be more pleasing to your baby as he grows into toddlerhood.

What's normal? If during the first weeks of life your baby never seems to focus on your face or other objects that are eight to twelve inches away, mention it to your pediatrician. It is not unusual for a newborn's eyes to appear "crossed" at times as her muscles gain more coordination. But by three or four months, if your baby's left and right eyes seem to look toward each other or in different directions, bring it up with your pediatrician as soon as possible. Muscle disorders like strabismus (misaligned or "crossed" eyes) and amblyopia ("lazy eye") can be treated by an ophthalmologist if diagnosed early.

Read more:
The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Center:

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