What Can My Baby See?
Do you ever wonder what your baby can see and when? When a baby is first born, we are often told that they can’t see more than 6-12 inches away. However, this is not the whole story. Babies are born with the ability to see at any distance. But, they aren’t very good at using their eye muscles. This means that they don’t focus on the object they are looking at accurately. They may focus too close and be looking in front of the object. Or, they may focus too far away and be looking behind the object. What a baby has difficulty seeing, is details. Babies don’t have mature visual acuity when they are born because the ability to see details is also dependent on the retina and the brain, which are not fully developed at birth.
So, what can my baby see?
In the first month of life, your baby’s vision is 20/120, which is the equivalent of being able to read the big E on an eye chart. This means that a newborn can see your eyes, your smile, and their own hands and fingers. By 4 months of age, your baby’s vision has improved to 20/60. This means that by 4-5 months, your baby can see and recognize your face and differentiate your face from all other faces. By 8 months, your baby can see 20/30, almost as well as you can!
The easiest things for your infant to see are high contrast patterns, such as black and white. An easy way to create a “toy” for your baby to look at is to make it yourself. Use a white paper plate or sheet of card stock and a black Sharpie. Draw thick black stripes for a high contract black and white stripe pattern. Another good option is a black and white checkerboard pattern.
Just because high contract black and white patterns are the easiest thing for your baby to see, that does not mean they are the only things they can see. Newborns can also distinguish shades of grey. By 9 weeks, a baby can distinguish most of the subtle contrast of the world around them, almost as well as an adult.
What about color?
Infants as young as two weeks old have been shown to see color, but their color vision is not as sensitive as an adult’s so they are unable to distinguish subtle color differences. This means that they probably cannot tell the difference between red and reddish orange. However, they can see color patterns as well as black and white patterns as long as the pattern is large enough and the color combination is different enough (either in color brightness or contrast).
Your baby’s eyes do not move together very well for the first 2 months of life. If you see one eye wandering or an eye crossing, that can be completely normal for that age. By 3 months, an infant’s eyes should move together well. Your baby should be able to follow an object (your face or a toy) smoothly as long as it is large enough and not moving too quickly. After 2 months, if you still see these types of movements, talk to your pediatrician about having your baby’s eyes examined.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends scheduling an infant’s first eye exam around six months of age. This is right after the eye undergoes rapid changes. Under the IntantSEE program, AOA member optometrists provide a no-cost comprehensive eye and vision assessment for infants 6-12 months old. This is regardless of a family’s income or access to insurance coverage. Click here to find a participating optometrist and schedule and appointment to have your infant’s vision assessed today!
Babies are not born with depth perception. Depth perception is the ability to see things in three dimensions and judge how far away an object is. Depth perception develops over time with visual experience. It first begins to develop between 3 and 5 months of age.
This means that your baby can see more than you think! To get a great visual of what your baby can see at what age compared to you, check out the BabySee app. You can also check out Visual Perception — Not Just 20/20 Vision to learn more about how the eyes interpret information.