We all know newborns prefer to see faces. Who wouldn’t, they are much more engaging then objects. However, how does infant vision work and what are the focusing ability of babies? What will baby see?
The ciliary muscles of the eyes contract so an image is projected onto the retina. These muscles are responsible for the infant’s ability to focus clear images at any distance. The reason newborns are not able to focus accurately is due to their lack of control over the ciliary muscles during the first two months. They may focus too close or too far behind the object making it blurry instead of clear. After 2 months, they will be able to project clear images onto the retina. Despite this fact infant vision can still be unclear due to visual acuity.
Visual acuity goes hand in hand with brain development. So even though the optical part of infant’s vision is mature they can’t see as well as adults. This is because the parts of the brain responsible for infant vision are still not fully developed making vision blurry. Visual acuity is hard to measure in newborns but we know it can be 6 to 10 times worse than adults. It gradually improves over the months but not until around 8 months of age does it become close to adult levels as the brain and nervous system of the infant become more mature.
Infants can recognize color as early as 1 to 2 weeks based on studies at the University of California at Berkeley. Baby will see red, orange, yellow and green early on but blue and violet take longer to see due to less color receptors in the retina for blue light. They prefer high contrast with bold colors verses pastel and black and white contrast. This also prefer contrast with shapes and patterns. These are the easiest for them to see. It may not be as rich in color as adult’s due to their immaturity but certainly this makes their visual world so much better. It has been documented that babies can see the difference between 2 shades of gray that differ by only 5 % during the first month. By nine weeks of age this increases to 0.5%. So, their ability to see light and dark and shading improves 4 times faster than their visual acuity.
Infant’s eye movement and coordination are important for developing hand to eye coordination and for depth perception. This takes a couple of months to develop and if eyes appear crossed or wandering it is normal during the first 2 months after birth. A baby’s ability to track can start early but may be jerky. By three months old infants should be able to smoothly track objects and by three to five months have good depth perception.
So, what can baby see? At birth, your baby will see the hairline or edge of your face with interior features being a bit blurry. They will see colors the first month so bright cheerful colors, shapes and contrasts can help stimulate their vision. By two months old your baby will see your eyes and mouth with a clearer vision as visual acuity has improved. Their eyes work better together and they can begin to shift their gaze to different objects without moving their head around 3 months. By 5 five months old your baby will see and can recognize your face from all other mothers in the world. The good thing is that babies recognize their mothers not only by their visual capabilities but also by their voices and smell. So, talk to them, hold them, smile at them and love them. Babies are smart and need your interaction and attention to grow and thrive. The first year of life is a critical part of their development and the American Optometric Association recommends infants get a vision screening at 6 months old.