Visual development (babies)

Visual development (babies)

You’ve probably realised by now that your new baby is your No 1 fan as he gazes intently at your face when you cradle him or during feeding time. For the first month, he can focus only about 20cm to 30cm away. That’s just far enough to clearly make out the face of the person holding him. If you hold him close, he will find your face and expressions so interesting.

By making lots of eye contact when holding your baby you are helping his visual development especially in the early months when his sight is quite fuzzy.

Good to know about your baby’s visual development

At birth, your baby’s vision isn’t fully developed, although he can make out light, shapes and movement. Your baby will turn his eyes towards a window or another light source. You may notice your newborn’s eyes wandering, as he hasn’t yet learned that he can fix his eyes on an object.

During your baby’s first month, he can focus only about 20cm to 30cm away (typically the distance from breast to face) so he can clearly make out the face of the person holding him. The eyes start working together and vision rapidly improves. Eye-hand coordination begins to develop as baby starts tracking moving objects with his eyes and reaching for them.

By the time your baby is one or two months old, he’ll have learned to focus his eyes. This means he can follow a toy if you move it in front of him. Your baby can see colour, but he can’t tell the difference between similar tones such as red and orange.

At two months colour differences are becoming clearer to your baby, and he starts to distinguish between similar shades. Your baby may now prefer bright primary colours, and more detailed and complex designs and shapes.

Between four months and five months your baby will begin to tell how far away something is from him. This is called depth perception. He will also be getting better at examining objects closely.

At eight months your baby’s vision is much clearer now, almost like an adult’s, and he can see longer distances. His vision is good enough to recognise people and objects across a room.

Between nine and 12 months your baby’s vision is becoming sharper and he can pick out an object the size of a crumb. Your baby will probably be able to point at and demand objects nearby. Closer to a year your baby can tell the difference between near and far. He will be able to recognise people he knows approaching from a distance.

It is important to remember that not every child is the same and some may reach certain milestones in the development of their vision at different ages. If you have concerns about your baby’s sight at any time, mention it to your doctor or public health nurse.

ClapHandies PlayTips to help your baby’s visual development

When you cuddle your newborn make eye contact and give him time to study your features and facial expressions.

Try this simple hide-and-seek game with your baby: Partially hide his favourite teddy bear behind something nearby and ask where teddy could be hiding. If he spots him, he may coo and point in delight.

The Tracking Game

In our PlayLabs we use toy snakes and get the babies to focus on the moving object. The mums move the snakes slowly in front of the babies, so that baby can track it with their eyes. You can try this at home using any safe object you can hang or swing above baby’s head. The trick is to swing it very slowly as the idea is to have baby’s eyes track the object.

When you’re getting baby dressed or changing his nappy, try to pull some funny faces. He may also mimic your facial expressions, so puff your cheeks up or stick out your tongue to see if he’ll copy you.

Mirror, mirror

In PlayLabs we like to play ‘Peek-a-boo I see You’ using mirrors. Baby sits on mum’s lap looking at the mirror as we ask “Where’s your nose?” or say “Mummy is hiding behind baby’s head”.

At around four to five months babies may start recognizing faces, so you can have hours of fun with homemade photo albums of family and pets. They’ll make a great visual and memory game: Who’s that? Yes that’s Daddy. Your phone’s photo album works well too!

Draw baby’s attention to an interesting object (his favourite rattle, keys on a ring/puppet etc) and then move it slowly in an arc horizontally across the line of vision. See how far baby can follow with his eyes! Try to move slowly and smoothly, slightly ahead of, but in pace with baby’s eye and head movements.

Once baby has mastered this, you can move the object in a vertical direction.

Hang a brightly coloured mobile above the baby’s cot so he can try to reach out and bat it. A baby gym on a nice soft mat is also good visual stimulation and encourages him to reach and grab for the toys.

You can also alternate left and right sides when feeding to give baby a different view of the world.

References: ‘Developmental Milestones: Sight’ Baby Centre
‘Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age’ American Optometric Association

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