What Parents Need to Know About Eye Development in the First Year
Written By: Dr. Peter Roed
When babies are born their visual system needs the world around them to continue to develop. They learn to see over a period of time much like they learn to walk and talk. Healthy eyes and good vision play a critical role in how babies learn to see. It is important to detect any problems early to ensure they have the opportunity to develop their visual system properly. Keep in mind that not every child is the same and some may reach certain milestones at different ages.
Nature has designed the eyes to start with a focus on what matters most; the world eight to twelve inches in front of them. Babies start to learn how to focus by looking at faces around them. In the first few weeks babies can see a range of shades in light and dark. At this stage, high contrast black and whites pictures work best to grab their attention. Color vision develops over the first few months and babies can respond to a full range of colors by around four months.
A baby’s eye teaming ability (using both eyes to work together in a precise and coordinated way) is poor at first but by two months they may have learned to follow moving objects. By three months babies may have developed some hand eye co-ordination and can bat at nearby objects. At four months babies typically have developed enough hand eye coordination to reach and grab for almost anything, so watch out! They also are starting to develop some distance vision and may begin to smile when they see you from across the room.
For the first few months of life it can be normal for a baby’s eyes to be misaligned intermittently (eyes not working together or pointing in the wrong directions). If this is constant or it is still occurring frequently by the age of three months infants should be assessed by an eye doctor.
5-8 Months of Age
From around five to eight months of age, control of eye movements and eye-body coordination continues to improve. Depth perception (judging distances) starts to develop as your baby’s eyes begin working together and they start to see the world in three dimension.
Finally, by around twelve months babies are able to notice different shapes and sizes of objects. Also, hand eye coordination together with fine motor skill development should allow them to grasp objects with thumb and forefinger.
First Eye Exam
As eye care professionals, we like to assess your baby’s eyes by around 6-8 months of age. Typically we will assess their eye teaming ability, roughly estimate their ability to see detail, check to see their prescription and make sure the eyes look healthy. Most babies begin life with healthy eyes and develop the visual abilities they will need without complication.
Occasionally problems can develop. The appearance of any of these signs warrants immediate attention by your optometrist or pediatrician:
- Excessive tearing
- Red or crusted eye lids
- Constant eye turning
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- Appearance of a white pupil
In the end it is important to remember that most babies visual systems develop without complication. Monitor their development with the above general timelines in mind, watching for any signs of visual problems. Begin your child’s eye care with an appointment between six and eights months of age and remember, if you have any questions or concerns we are here to help.
Keep an eye out for the next installment which will cover toddlers through school age visual development.
Dr. Peter Roed moved west from Ontario after graduating from the Univeristy of Waterloo Optometry program in the late 90’s. The move was as much about finding his own path and seeking new experiences as it was to find work. The Optometry program opened more then just professional doors but it sparked his ongoing love of travel and photography. With eye care missions to Mexico, exchange programs to Cuba and externships to Jamaica and Sweden, his passion for exploration of new places and cultures was born. Optometry has been a great and rewarding profession for Dr. Roed, but he truly enjoys the relationships he creates with his patients; with his neighbours. Dr. Roed provides comprehensive eyecare to all ages and has a particular affinity for pediatric eyecare, as he is also a father of 3.
Visit Dr. Roed and his staff at the modern and family friendly Eyeland Optometry, located at 161 Liberton Drive in St. Albert.