7 Things Your Baby Wants You to Know About What She Sees

visual development

7 Things Your Baby Wants You to Know About What She Sees

I decided to write about the development of vision because early visual development is so critical! It is all I can do not to grab mommies on the street when I see they have a three-month-old and tell them how to optimize the changes that are going on in their baby’s eyes right at that very moment!

1. I can’t see you very well when you talk to me from across the room, but I can focus on your face while you are holding me.

When babies are born, their vision is not completely developed. The newborn’s visual acuity is approximately 20/600, developing to 20/20 well after the age of six years in most children. So their world is very near to them. Babies are all nearsighted and they can best see about 8-10 inches from their face. I find this really interesting, as a lot of school districts are asking five-year-olds to spend a full day in kindergarten, perhaps sitting in the back row of class. That is very taxing on young eyes that may not have 20/20 vision yet. Vision can take that long to be completely refined, but according to a study published in 2009, most visual development takes place during the first six months. We consider these first six months a critical period because after that early visual development takes place it is very difficult to make corrections.

2. I love to look at your face when you change my diaper.

Studies show that babies prefer to look at mommy and daddy’s faces, other children’s faces, and their own faces in a mirror more than anything else.

3. I don’t know what pink or yellow look like yet.

Scientists now believe that babies only see in black and white for the first three months. Around three months of age, the cones in the eyes develop and grow longer, starting to perceive different colors. The first color they are able to distinguish is red. That is why there are so many black, white and red toys on the market for newborns. I love to use a playing card for visual stimulation. Something as simple as a three of hearts or a six of clubs is very visually stimulating for a baby.

4. The world looks very flat to me.

The other really important thing that occurs right at three months is the development of depth perception. Newborn babies actually have no depth perception at all, but it develops very rapidly right around three months, within a two week period. This is really important to be aware of because if a baby has any eye disease or visual delay, depth perception cannot develop appropriately within that crucial two week window.

5. Sometimes I can see you better out of the corner of my eye.

When babies are born, their peripheral vision is actually more acute than straight ahead. We used to think that babies had no peripheral vision! If you look closely, you will notice that newborn babies will turn their head away from you, then look at you out of the corners of their eyes. That is not due to lack of control, they are doing that so they can see you better. Babies are so smart!

6. Don’t panic if I look cross-eyed. That is completely normal!

Along with visual acuity, visual motor skills (or coordination of the tiny muscles around the eyes) are developing throughout the first year, and both components need to be exercised simultaneously. Visual motor skills are important for scanning, reading, and catching a ball. You can help develop the tiny muscles around the eyes by moving your baby in an arc in front of you while you talk to her, encouraging her to keep her eyes on your face. You can also move a playing card in an arc horizontally and vertically 10 inches in front of her face, encouraging her to move her eyes to follow the card. When you are feeding her, give her the bottle for 10 minutes on one side and 10 minutes on the other side so she can gaze up at your face from both directions.

7. Tummy time and crawling will help my visual development.

This is the case for two reasons: First of all, babies are close to the floor where all their toys are and the proximity and movement stimulates their eyes. The second reason is the most fascinating. Because the left side of our brain controls the right side of our body and vice versa, the two sides of our brain need to learn to communicate and work together for us to have coordinated movements. As babies crawl and use their entire body reciprocally, the corpus callosum, or the part of the brain that connects the two sides together, is very stimulated.

This stimulation strengthens the corpus callosum, building the connections between the two sides of the brain; and since both sides of the brain need to work together to perceive what your baby sees, crawling is enhancing visual skills and helping to build a foundation for good lifelong vision and reading skills.

About the Author /

Dr. Aimee Ketchum is a pediatric occupational therapist and has been working in pediatrics for 20 years. Ketchum works in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at UPMC Pinnacle Hospital and lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters. Ketchum is also the owner/operator of Aimee’s Babies LLC, a child development company.

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