When Do Babies Start To See?

Have you ever wondered how babies begin to see you and the world around them? The distance they can see at, the colours they can perceive or the time it takes for them to recognise your face? Read on.

By Jasmine Kaur

When Do Babies Start To See?
How well can your baby see you?

Eyes are one of our most important organs. They shape not only the way we see the world, but also how we see ourselves and others. And as we grow, we can even start to communicate with our eyes. Looking into people's eyes, we can see love, joy, pain, despair and even hate. So, when you look into your baby's eyes, you might wonder "Can she really see me?", and even if she can, "How well can she see me?". These are some of the questions new parents have and we answer them for you below.

When do babies’ eyes develop in the womb?

Your baby’s eyes begin to develop and take shape in your womb around the third week of pregnancy. However, it is only the tenth week, by which your baby’s eyelids develop enough to open and shut. And somewhere between the 11th and 14th week, your baby’s eyelids close for a long period, only to open around the 28th week.

What can newborns see?

Right after birth, babies can see up to an 8 to 12 inches radius from their eyes. Objects further away from a 12 inch radius will appear blurred to your baby. So, your baby can see your face if you bring it close enough, sometimes within its first week itself.

Moreover, babies cannot see a lot of colour, which is why it particularly helps to have high-contrast toys during your infant’s first months. While it was initially assumed that babies could only see in black and white (and some shades of grey), it’s been recently discovered that babies can see patches of red.

Newborns can only see what’s near them. You might’ve heard the term ‘20/20 vision’. This phrase defines normal vision, which means that a person with 20/20 vision should be able to see 20 feet ahead with as much clarity as a person with normal vision. A newborn has 20/400 vision, which means that the level of clarity which a you’d have (if you have 20/20 vision) at a 400 feet away object, that’s the level of clarity that a newborn has at a 20 feet away object.

When can babies see colour? And what colours do babies see first?

Colour is a big part of the human visual experience. Babies develop their sense of colours gradually. They can differentiate between reds and greens at around the two-month mark. And they can even start seeing blues and yellows, a few weeks after that, as long as they are highly saturated. For example, babies wouldn’t be able to perceive the pastel shades of blue and yellows, as they would be too light for their eyes to see at first. This is why it is recommended to get them toys that are brighter and more contrasting.

By the time your baby is between the ages of four and six months, she can recognise the following five colours: red, green, yellow, blue and purple. This has been stated in a research paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2017, called ‘Biological origins of color categorization’ by Alice E. Skelton et al.

When can babies see clearly?

The development of eyesight is complex. Your newborn’s eyes continue to develop well after the baby is born. As mentioned earlier, a newborn has a 20/400 vision. But by the time they are between the ages of three and five years old, kids can start seeing in 20/20 vision.

Infant vision development timeline month by month

Your baby’s vision develops week by week – the process is gradual. Furthermore, it doesn’t occur at exactly the same pace and differs from baby to baby. However, here is an approximate timeline for some eyesight milestones that babies tend to reach in their first year.

Eyesight milestones that babies tend to cross over the first year

Your baby’s eyesight at 2 months

Your baby will be able to focus on your face more easily. So, he might start to recognise you and even have stable eye contact with you. Do not worry if your baby seems to be somewhat cross-eyed, as it is fairly common. However, if you find your baby’s eyes frequently crossed, do consult your doctor.

Your baby’s eyesight at 3 to 4 months

Infants can start reaching for people and objects around this time. Their eyes can also follow items in motion around this age.

Your baby’s eyesight at 5 months

It’s around this age that your infant’s eyes will start to coordinate with one another and she will have depth perception. This means that your baby will start to see the world around her in 3-D rather than 2-D. And as mentioned earlier, your baby would now be able to recognize the five main colours.

Your baby’s eyesight at 6 to 7 months

Your baby’s eyesight would have significantly improved and reached 20/25 vision, which is relatively close to the adult vision level of 20/20. The 6th month is also the recommended age for your baby’s first eye exam to ensure she has healthy eyes.

Your baby’s eyesight at 8 to 10 months

As babies begin to crawl at this age, their motor skills, namely eye-foot and hand-eye coordination, starts to significantly improve. Your baby will most likely start to recognise his family members, or other people who spend a lot of time around him, by looking at their faces.

Your baby’s eyesight in the first year

To get a better understanding of your child’s vision development during her first year you can watch the following video created by The Guardian. This video is not only well researched, but is also created in 360°, so that you can look around in all directions through a baby’s eyes and perspective. Even though it’s only a few minutes long, it beautifully illustrates how a baby sees the world as her vision develops over her first year.

Some indicators that your baby’s having eye problems:

  • Excessively tearing, which indicates blocked tear ducts.
  • Red or yellowish crusts on eye lids, which is a sign of eye infection.
  • Constant eye turning, which suggests there’s problem with refraction or eye muscle control.
  • Extreme sensitivity to light, which indicates that there’s elevated eye pressure (glaucoma).
  • Appearance of white pupil, which could be a symptom of congenital cataract, eye tumours, etc.

If you notice any of these symptoms please contact a physician, after all your baby's vision health is important. 

Also read: 6 Natural Ways To Improve Your Child's Vision

About the expert:

Reviewed by Dr. Vivek Choudhury, MBBS, MD (Paed), DNB (Neon), Neonatology and Paediatrics, Apollo Cradle, Delhi, on 28 June 2019.

About the author:

Written by Jasmine Kaur on 28 June 2019.

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