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Even in the womb babies can tell the difference between light and dark. At birth, they see shapes by following the lines where light and dark meet. Yet, they are several weeks old before they can see their first primary color: red. No wonder they prefer highly contrasted patterns to plain surfaces.
In their first weeks and months, babies learn to use their eyes—and their eyes actually learn how to see. While each eye has physical structure it needs to begin to see normally, the two eyes haven’t learned to work together yet. This “binocular vision,” develops quickly throughout the first few weeks and months of life.
In this critical first year, your baby’s brain and eyes begin to coordinate images and remember what they’ve seen. You can participate in your newborn’s eye development and health as a normal part of your time with your baby. Proper stimulation can increase curiosity, attention span, memory, and nervous system development. So be sure to give your baby plenty of interesting things to see.
Newborns can only focus about eight to twelve inches from their face, and they see only black, white and gray. As early as the first week, your baby begins to respond to movement and to focus on your face. Soon your baby will smile when you come close. This is an important sign that your baby sees and recognizes you—a rewarding moment for any parent! (Don’t forget to jot down the date.)
Over the next ten to twelve weeks, you will notice your baby following moving objects and recognizing things, especially toys and mobiles with bold, geometric patterns. As color vision begins to develop, babies will see red first. They will see the full spectrum of colors by the time they reach three months of age.
Depth perception and eye-hand coordination begin to develop when your baby reaches four months. In the blink of an eye, your baby can reach out and touch an object, something that previously only happened by chance.
Between four and six months of age, babies will reach for a bottle, grab toys waved in front of them, and even begin to scoot or crawl toward objects they want to grasp. Depth perception becomes stronger, and your baby will develop the ability to see close-up objects as well as things across the room or the playground.
By six months, your child’s vision has developed to 20/20. We commonly think of 20/20 vision, or emmetropia, as “normal” vision. You will see how eyesight becomes an important element in your baby’s ability to coordinate full-body movements such as standing and walking. Be sure to schedule an eye exam after your baby turns six months old. This first exam marks the first of many crucial annual eye exams that ensure your baby’s eyes are developing normally.
The connection between eyes, movement and memory is strong as your baby approaches his or her first birthday. In the past year you have probably noticed tremendous improvements to your baby’s coordinated attempts to roll a ball, pick up small toys and objects (some attempts you may not want them to do; is the baby-proofing done?), and feed themselves foods like dry cereal or sliced fruit.
Activities that encourage hand-eye coordination, like playing with stacking boxes and rings, blocks or snap-together toys, will help strengthen your baby’s ability to see an object, touch it, and remember things about the object.
Keep your baby's eyes healthy by having his or her eyes examined yearly by a VSP eye doctor. In between annual checkups, look for any symptoms that normal vision development is being hindered.