Vision Development in Babies
Babies’ vision goes through many changes in the first months after birth.
Focus and Tracking: Newborn babies have peripheral vision (the ability to see to the sides) and in the first weeks of life gradually develop the ability to focus on an object or point in front of them. At one month, a baby can focus briefly on objects up to three feet away.
By two months, infants are also able to track (follow) moving objects, as their visual coordination and depth perception improves. By three months they also have the hand/arm control needed to bat at nearby moving objects. If a baby’s eyes are not working together to focus and track objects by three months of age, a pediatrician should be consulted.
Distance vision continues to develop in the early months. By four months a baby may smile when they see a parent across a room, and they can see objects outside when looking through a window.
Light and Images: At birth, babies are very sensitive to bright light, so their pupils remain constricted to limit the light coming into the eyes. After about two weeks, the pupils begin to enlarge and babies can see a range of shades of light and dark. As the retinas (the light-sensitive tissue inside the eye) develop, the ability to see and recognize patterns improves. High contrast images like black-and-white pictures, bull’s eyes or very simple face shapes are most likely to attract babies’ attention in the early weeks.
The human face is always babies’ favorite image. When someone holds a baby, he or she will look intently at the person’s face, especially the eyes. As the baby’s visual span increases in the first month, he/she will be able to see the person’s whole face and will be much more responsive to facial expressions.
Color Vision: Babies’ color vision matures at about the same rate as the other visual abilities. At one month, they are sensitive to the brightness or intensity of color and will look longer at bold colors and contrasting patterns than at lighter tones. By about four months babies can differentiate and respond to the full range and shades of colors.
Vision Development in Preschool and School-aged Children
Focus, tracking, depth perception, and other aspects of vision continue to develop throughout early and middle childhood. Convergence, the ability of both eyes to focus on an object simultaneously, becomes more fully developed by about age seven; this is one reason any problems a child has with focusing or eye alignment should be treated before that age.
Most children are naturally somewhat farsighted (hyperopic) but can see well at other distances. More pronounced myopia (nearsightedness) and astigmatism are thought to be inherited. There is some evidence from recent studies in the United States and Australia that the amount of time school-aged children spend outdoors, in natural light, may have some impact on whether they develop mild myopia.