The Eyesight of Newborn & How Vision Develop

Eyesight in Newborn

Eyesight of newborn,What and How can my baby see?

The Eyesight of  newborn is an interesting subject. When you see a cute bundled up newborn baby, the most striking feature would be their eyes. 

Big and bright, those eyes are looking up at you as you try to make them smile with funny expressions.

But do you know, how much a baby can really see? Let me tell you.

Eyesight of newborn,The early days

Though development of a baby is a natural process, for parents its good to know few basics about vision development. Child care revolves around various aspects and you will know when to check with a doctor if need be.

Even before he’s born, your baby could see. Surprised? It’s true. A foetus can perceive light from week 16-18 and will be able to open its eyes by around 24-26 weeks.

The retina of the eye starts to develop by the 9 th month and by birth, eyesight of newborn has matured enough to allow vision or the visual process to occur.

If you have noticed, a new born baby doesn’t fix his eyes on any particular object. His eyes and head move randomly in different directions and rarely stare at light/toy for a few seconds before moving again. 

This is because fixation is a physiological process that happens only by the time a child is 2 months old.

During the first few months after birth, a baby will be able to see only high contrasts – say, black and white. A baby tries to take in everything in her surroundings but prefers gazing at black and white patterns.

This is also a reason why the areola around a new mother’s nipples darkens. This is to allow the baby to appreciate the contrast difference in the skin and latch on correctly for breast-feeding. It is amazing how nature is a science, isn’t it?

Eyesight of newborn - gradually developing

The mother’s face is the first face a child can recognize. Other than it being the most common face a baby sees throughout the day , a mother’s face is between 8-15 inches from the baby’s face while feeding which is the distance at which a newborn can see.

This holds true for any care-giver’s face a baby sees most often. So the next time you
want to soothe a crying newborn by dancing a few feet away or showing the moon in the sky, try instead to simply go close enough so the baby can see your face and smile.

 Smiling also gives a high contrast between your lips and teeth which a baby picks up and stares at. If you’re familiar with social media, you probably already know how black and white stimulation cards are trending.

These stimulation cards are usually used by health care professionals to stimulate visual development in a pre-mature child or children who are differently-abled whose vision is poor.

 There is no harm in using them for any child although they are not a “must-have” like many platforms claim. If you’d like to, you can simply use black and white cloth at home, give tummy time to the child on a black and white bedsheet/rug/towel/saree.

We have a black and white wall at home that I would take my baby to, when he needed to calm down.

You can also make or get cloth or board books that are black and white and use them as activities to engage your newborn.

Eyesight of newborn, add colors to their lives!

As the retina matures and the connection between the brain and eyes are being formed and strengthened, a baby will start to appreciate colour and the eyesight of newborn develop further.

This happens by the time they are about 4-5 months old.

 Rolling over on their tummy will also give them more freedom to explore their
surroundings. 

The first colour they can perceive is usually red since it has the longest wavelength. Yes,
mommies, if you’re wondering why your baby is obsessed with your red bindi/sindhoor or lipstick, this is why! This is also why most baby toys come in bright primary colours like red, yellow or blue. 

So get those rattles and balls out to play and watch your little one giggle away! You will also notice that the baby might enjoy a toy but once taken away, forgets about it – Out of Sight is Out of Mind! Their visual memory is not strong enough yet.

 Eye movements also become more purposeful by this age though they will use their head to turn and look at a moving object.

Eyesight - Walking to toddlerhood

By the time the first birthday candles are blown, a child’s vision becomes sharper and the clarity for distant objects also improves.

 If you think that with this the toddler’s(Toddler age- group) vision is perfect, let me tell you that there is still a long way to go. Your child can see the moon and stars in the sky (yup, aeroplanes too) , albeit with a slight blur.

 A child’s vision develops completely only by the age of 6-8 years. Till then, the fovea, that is, the central part of the retina continues to mature.

 At the same time, the eye-brain connections are getting stronger and binocular vision is getting more accurate. 

Try throwing a ball to a 1 year old – she probably won’t be able to catch it. Do the same with a 3 year old and watch them strike the ball with a bat like a pro! This is because binocular or 3D vision, that tells us the distance, speed and depth of an object begins to form by age 2-3 and matures by 6 years.

 Multiple areas in our brain and the connections they have with our eyes are responsible for that.

 Do you see your toddler often bumping into furniture while running aimlessly around the house?

 That’s because they cannot judge where the edge of the furniture is, yet their awareness of space is not enough.

This is normal in any toddler but it is a matter of concern if accompanied by other signs such as not being able to pick out favourite toys or not being able to spot objects lying on the floor or if the behavior continues after the age of 3-4 years or if it is seen in a child born pre-term, associated with other illnesses/disability, accompanied by squint, going too close to objects to see, etc.

vision of children - When should you take your child to an eye doctor

We say a parent knows their child best. While that is true in most cases, some signs of poor vision are missed easily by a parent that can hamper early treatment.

 It is harder to gauge if your child’s vision is appropriate for age since each child grows at a different pace in different environments. We recommend a complete eye examination by age of 3 years in every child, that is, before your child starts
pre-school.

 This helps in early detection of refractive errors and can prevent loss of sight. Does that
mean an eye examination is not necessary earlier?

 If at any point, no matter what the age (even if just born), you notice any abnormality in your child’s eye – be it redness, watering, squint, a white reflex on flash photography, frequent blinking, keeping the face turned to one side, squeezing the eyes, inability to open eyes in sunlight or using too much of visual devices like mobile phones, etc, please consider
getting a complete examination done.

 An eye examination is definitely needed if the child is born pre-term, if there is delayed development, other conditions such as epilepsy, if there has been an injury, or if
one or both parents wore glasses in childhood.

 Your pediatrician can refer you to a pediatric ophthalmologist. A pediatric ophthalmologist will be able to assess vision in a child as young as 2 months old or even earlier! So why fear when the right people are here?

Happy Parenting!


By Dr. Maithri Arunkumar

(MBBS, DNB Ophthalmology,
Bengaluru, India)

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