Newborn babies are pretty helpless. They can’t hold up the weight of their own head. They can’t get from point A to point B without assistance and they can’t yet articulate their needs except with gurgles, tears, and a bit of screeching. To top it all off, babies enter this world legally blind. They can still see shapes and movement but what an adult with 20/20 vision can see clearly from a distance of 400 feet doesn’t come into focus for a baby until just 20 feet away. Over the first few months of life, however, a baby’s vision changes dramatically. By 3-5 years, a child with normal vision development will have 20/20 eyesight.
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This rapid development is why infant eye exams are so important. A vision disorder can impair your baby’s dexterity, social skills, the ability to identify objects and fully understand the world around them. Unfortunately, only 14 percent of children under age five have had an eye exam, even though normal vision is critical in the early stages of development.
When to Schedule Your Baby’s First Eye Exam
To prevent developmental delays, it’s important for babies to have their first eye exam at 6 to 9 months. At this age, your baby’s attention span is long enough for a more comprehensive eye exam by an eye care practitioner. It is also still early enough to catch and effectively treat any visual impairments that could otherwise have a long-term effect on your baby’s overall development. Your pediatrician will perform basic vision tests in the first few months of life, but you can also monitor your baby’s visual development at home. Here’s what to expect from the first week to that 9 month mark and into the first year.
Your Baby’s Visual Development from 1 week to 12 months
At one week old, your baby sees the world only in black and white and shades of gray. Objects are best seen about 8-12 inches from their face.
Weeks 2 & 3
Your baby will start recognizing you and other caregivers, focusing on your face for up to 10 seconds.
Your baby may start trying to track objects by moving their head back and forth.
For the first month, it’s fairly common for a baby’s eyes to wander and cross. This is usually not a sign of amblyopia (lazy eye) but if you notice that one eye continually turns in or out, it’s best to have an eye doctor evaluate their eyes as soon as possible. At this age, your baby will also begin noticing light sources and making eye contact.
Your baby should be able to move their eyes independently of their head and track objects horizontally, vertically, and circularly. You might notice longer periods of eye contact and increased light sensitivity.
Color vision develops around four months and depth perception develops at about five months of age, allowing them to see the world in 3D.
Vision continues to improve and smaller details will start to come into focus. Your baby will show a new interest in pictures and small objects and will be able to grasp objects with their thumb and forefinger.
Facial recognition will continue to improve and your baby will register familiar people and objects from further away. Depth perception is also better so plan to duck when your baby decides to throw toys in your direction!
The InfantSEE Program: Free Eye Exams for Infants
Monitoring how your baby is visually interacting with the world around them is a valuable first step towards ensuring your baby’s eyesight develops properly. It’s still important, however, to bring your baby in for an eye exam within the first year. To ensure everyone has access to this critical service, the American Optometric Association sponsors a complimentary program called InfantSEE for babies between 6 and 12 months of age. (9 months is the ideal age for an exam.)
Plaza Lane Optometry is proud to provide this free program to all babies, 6 to 12 months old. Call our office during open hours for more information about the InfantSEE program and scheduling an exam for your baby: 831-429-2020.