Baby vision: When can babies see?

Sharon Copeland Sharon Copeland
Monday, 26 April 2021 Share this blog: Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Copy link Copy Link

Healthy babies are born with the ability to see; however, the ability to focus their eyes and move them accurately comes at a later stage of their development. This article looks at baby vision and the development of babies eyesight.

When do babies eyes first start to change?

Babies eyes first start to change in the first couple of months when their eyes begin to work together more effectively. Other milestones in the development of a baby's vision occur at around 4 months, 5-8 months and 9-12 months.

When do babies see colour?

Babies are believed to be able to see colour well and clearly at around 5 months old. Their colour vision may not be as clear as that of an adult, but it will have developed dramatically compared to when they were 1 month old and couldn’t tell the difference between similar tones.

A baby begins to distinguish between similar tones at around 2 months old. The first colour they will be able to see is red, and by the time they are 5 months old, they will be able to see the whole colour spectrum.

Understanding the development of your baby’s vision

It’s important to understand the development of your baby's vision as our ability to process visual information is vital to understanding the world around us, and vision problems in babies can lead to developmental delays. Here are the various milestones in a baby's visual development:

Newborn - 4 months

Newborn babies experience the world around them as being out of focus and can best see objects between 8 - 10 inches away from them.

In the first couple of months, newborn eyes will start to function better together; however, they might not coordinate effectively yet. It is normal for one eye to wander or for both eyes to appear crossed in most instances. However, if you notice wandering or crossed eyes too often, it may be worth speaking to a paediatrician.

At around 3 months, a baby will develop hand-eye coordination. You may notice their eyes following a moving object while reaching out to it with their hands.

5 - 8 months

During the next 5 - 8 months, a baby's eyesight will change dramatically. They will pick up new skills and acquire depth perception to determine how close or far away objects are around them.

This will improve their hand-eye coordination and at around 8 months of age, many babies will begin to crawl, which will aid hand-eye coordination even further.

A baby’s colour vision will also improve during this period.

9 - 12 months

cute baby lying on bed

By the time a baby is one year old, their vision will be fully developed, and they will be able to see thing very clearly, judging distances well and focusing on fast-moving objects.

When should your baby’s eyes get checked?

It’s normal for a number of routine eye checks to be carried out during the first few years of a baby’s life. A newborn will undergo a physical examination 72 hours after birth, and a follow-up eye check will take place when your baby is between 6-8 weeks old.

You will be offered health and development reviews for your baby until they are 2 years old to ensure that their development is on track. If you have any concerns about your child's eyesight, you will be asked at these reviews, and an eye test can be arranged if necessary.

Your child may have an eye exam at around the age of 4 or 5 when they start school to detect any problems early on and treat them. This eye exam is called a vision screening and checks to see if there is reduced vision in one or both eyes.

Vision problems with baby’s eyesight

A range of vision problems can be detected with a child's or baby's eyesight during an eye test. These include:

Childhood cataracts

Childhood cataracts are often referred to as congenital cataracts. These are cataracts present from birth or shortly afterwards and appear as cloudy patches in the eye's lens.

Cataracts diagnosed in older babies or children are known as developmental, infantile or juvenile cataracts.

Cataracts in children can affect one or both eyes, and the cloudy patches in the lens can become bigger, resulting in poor vision. Other symptoms include 'wobbling eyes’ and a squint where eyes point in different directions.

Amblyopia (lazy eye)

Amblyopia is when vision doesn’t develop properly in one eye. It doesn’t usually present obvious symptoms, making it difficult to spot in babies and young children.

Strabismus (squint)

A squint is when the eyes look in different directions. This can occur at any age but is particularly common in young children. Squints in babies can come and go and are not usually a cause for concern. However, you should seek medical advice if your child is older than 3 months and has a squint that comes and goes or is present all the time.

Myopia

Myopia is also known as short-sightedness. This common eye condition is when objects in the distance appear blurry while nearby objects appear clear.

Hyperopia

Hyperopia is also known as long-sightedness. It is when objects nearby appear out of focus while objects in the distance appear clear.

Astigmatism

Like myopia and hyperopia, astigmatism is also a common cause of blurry vision. With astigmatism, the eye is shaped like a rugby ball. This causes light to be focused in multiple places in the eye and can also lead to headaches and eye strain.

Colour vision deficiency (colour blindness)

Colour blindness is more common in boys than girls and results in trouble seeing colours or distinguishing between various colours. It is usually present from birth but can also develop at a later stage in life.

Symptoms of an eye problem

Symptoms of eye problems experienced by babies include:

  • Excessive tearing – this can indicate blocked tear ducts
  • Sensitivity to light – may signal elevated eye pressure
  • Red or crusted eyelids – often a sign of an eye infection
  • A white pupil – this can indicate eye cancer
  • Eyes which constantly wander – this might indicate eye muscle control dysfunction

If there are any problems in your child’s vision, it is advised to see an optician or GP to determine the problem.

Conclusion

While babies can see as soon as they are born, their vision develops as they grow and learn new skills. Engaging with your baby will encourage their development. Talking to your baby and pointing out things you see, taking them to new and interesting places and naming objects when you speak to your baby are all things you can do to help them process visual information.

Make sure that you pay attention to any signs or symptoms that could indicate a problem with their vision, and speak to a doctor if you have any concerns.

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