Visual Skills Development for Newborn Babies

CME WebsitesChild Development, Newborns 0 - 3 Months

A physician will examine your newborn’s eyes at birth to rule out congenital cataracts and other serious problems.  At this time an antibiotic will be put on the eyes to prevent infection from bacteria that was present in the birth canal.

Nerve cells in the retina and brain that control vision are not completely developed.  Therefore, infants can only see in black and white and shades of gray.  Newborns cannot focus on near objects, as eyes do not yet have the ability to accommodate.  The estimated visual acuity of a newborn is between 20/200 and 20/400.  This means that a newborn can see at 20 feet what an adult with normal vision can see at 200-400 feet.  Studies show that infants enjoy looking at faces.  Since they cannot see much detail, they are really studying the outline of the face in contrast to the hairline.  For the first 2 months your infant’s eyes are not coordinated.  One eye may wander or eyes may appear crossed.  If this continues after 4 months consult your child’s physician.

Pigmentation of the irises is not yet complete.  Babies born with darker skin tend to be born with darker eyes that stay relatively the same color.  However babies born with lighter skin are usually born with blue or bluish-gray eyes.  The pigment in the eyes will change over the first year of life resulting in a deeper darker color.  Permanent eye color is not set in stone until at least 9 months of age.

Strategies to Help Develop an Infant’s Visual Skills

  • To encourage visual interaction keep hairstyle the same
  • To encourage your baby to look up at your face try humming while breast feeding
  • When interacting with your baby position your face or toy 8-12 inches away from his/her face
  • Moving objects helps attract your infant’s attention
  • Research has shown that black and white and other bright colors of high contrast stimulate your baby’s retina development
  • While pastel colors in a nursery may look pleasing to an adult, to a newborn it essentially does nothing as they end up seeing only one shade blurred together.  Instead decorate the infant’s room in bright cheerful colors, using contrasting colors and shapes.
  • Do not over do black and white.  While it is great for toys, too much of it, such as on the baby’s sheets, bumpers, and wall hangings can cause sensory overload.  Using black and white contrasts and patterns on crib sheets and around the crib can cause the infant to be over stimulated at a time when they are there for rest.  Infants should have somewhere in their crib where they can turn from visual stimulation when they have had enough and need a break.
  • Use a nightlight or dim light in baby’s room
  • When outside, keep your infant in the shade to protect his/her eyes from the sun