When babies are born their vision is not as good as older children or adults. They have to learn to see over a period of time, much like they learn to walk and talk. Babies have to learn to focus their eyes, move their eyes accurately, and learn to move them together as team. They also have to learn to process the information that their eyes see in their brain to understand the world around them.
At birth, babies’ vision is abuzz with all kinds of visual stimulation from their new environment. Their primary focus is on objects about 8 to 10 inches in front of their face; or approximately the distance from their face to the parent’s face. The eyes do not work together very well the first few months of life. However, after 2 to 3 months the eyes usually have learned to work together as a pair and the vision begins to rapidly improve. Eye hand coordination begins to develop and babies can begin to track objects with their eyes. Parents can help stimulate development baby keeping reach and touch toys within 8 to 12 inches from their face and moving their position in the crib frequently.
As babies grow, they get better and better at focusing on their parents faces and the people and objects around them. However, they do not see depth perception (the ability to judge if objects are nearer or farther away than other objects) until about 5 months of age. They have to learn to develop a 3-dimensional view of the world. It is also around this time that it is generally believed that babies have developed good color vision. Mobiles hung above the crib and crib gyms that allow babies to grab, pull, and kick are good for visual development.
Crawling actually helps to further develop eye-hand-foot-body coordination. Sometimes babies who walk early and do minimal crawling may not learn to use their eyes together as well as babies who crawl a lot. By the time babies reach ages 9 to 12 months babies should be able to use their eyes and their hands together, and grasp objects with their thumb and forefinger. Babies can also begin to judge distances fairly well and can throw things with some precision.
By two years of age, a child’s eye-hand coordination and depth perception should be well developed. At this age, children are highly interested in exploring their environment and interested in looking and listening.
Signs of Eye and Vision Problems
- Excessive Tearing- may be a sign of blocked tear ducts
- Red or encrusted eyelids- could be a sign of an eye infection
- A Constant Eye Turn- may be a sign of poor eye muscle control (strabismus)
- Appearance of a White Pupil- may indicate the presence of an eye cancer
- Extreme sensitivity to light- may indicate an elevated pressure in the eye
A baby should have their first eye exam between the ages of 6 to 12 months. The American Optometric Association has a program called Infant SEE that provides a free eye exam to all babies 6 to 12 months old. Baby eye exams are done very differently than adult exams, but eye doctors are still able to determine if a child’s eyes are developing normally. Babies experience their world through their eyes, remember to have your baby’s eyes checked early in life.
Dr. Laura Young is an Infant SEE Provider and is able to see babies at Premier Family Eye Care in Indian Trail. Call 704-821-EYES (3937) to schedule a free eye exam for your baby.