Baby Vision: What does my baby see? And when?
When babies are born, whether they are full-term or preemies, they’re really not finished enough to live outside the womb. From the moment of birth their brains are instantly put to work to direct them to breathe, eat, and see. The breathing part is easy, at least in the majority of births. The eating part, especially nature’s way, is ironically a bit of an effort. Both baby and Mom may need assistance getting the nursing process on auto-pilot. And then, there’s seeing.
We look at our newborn babies and say hello. We profess our undying and unconditional love. And then we ask “Do you see me? I’m your Mommy.” Your baby blinks and frowns. That is your first indication that baby’s brain has received a signal of incoming light and is trying to make some adjustments. In that moment, the brain is trying to translate what the signal means and the process of “seeing” is initiated. Baby’s eyes are the conduit that sends data to the brain, and the brain tells us what we see.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, seeing, as we adults define it, is a learned skill performed by our brains. In the first months of life the brain is working feverishly to coherently register colors, distance, shapes, intensity, and sharpness. Our brains “learn” to see through practice.
- Birth to 2 months: your baby does see you-beginning with peripheral vision separately with each eye. Their primary focus is on objects between 8-10 inches from their face and they will stare intently. Faces are their favorite images. At 1 month, your baby will probably register differentiated responses to intense bright colors.
- 2 – 4 months: Babies begin tracking objects and reaching toward them. Their eyes are focusing together. Somewhere between 4 months and 5 months of age babies will be able to differentiate and respond to the full range of colors and intensities.
At this point, most of us would say the basics of vision have been developed: both eyes are working together to send data to the brain, which tells us baby sees the world up close and at a distance, in full, living color. But there is still more for the brain to learn.
- 5-8 months: The ability to see the world in 3-D (depth perception) develops. Around 7-8 months when baby starts to crawl, depth perception improves as babies learn distance (high/low, near/far) and develop more eye-hand coordination and judgment.
- 8-12 months: Babies are using their eyes and hands together and crawling enhances this ability. Babies can judge distance fairly well, and throw things with precision. By the time babies reach 12 months of age, binocular vision, color perception, depth perception and eye-hand coordination, all converge. Baby is ready to explore the world and get up and walk!
Seeing (and hearing), like getting adequate nourishment, and being able to breathe, is critical to staying on track with other developmental milestones. If there seems to be any problem with your baby’s ability to see, prompt attention from an ophthalmologist is essential.