Your baby's vision development begins
before they are even born. The mother must care for her body
during pregnancy to insure that the child will receive the
proper nutrition for development. This is vitally important
for the proper development of your baby's body and mind,
including the eyes and the vision centers in the brain.
Follow the appropriate guidelines for proper nutrition,
supplements and the proper amount of rest you need during
your pregnancy. Smoking, alcohol and drugs can cause many
problems for the baby, including serious vision problems.
Even common medications like aspirin can be dangerous to the
baby during pregnancy. Aspirin tends to increase the risk of
low birth weight and problems during delivery. Low birth
weight has been associated with vision problems in infants.
Over the counter medicines and herbal supplements should be
screened by the OB/GYN doctor because seemingly innocent
supplements can have poor consequences.
A quick look at the research shows the
newer findings of infant developmental and psychological
advances that have taken place over the past decade. The
vision of the infant is a complex subject and requires the
scrutiny it deserves. A baby's eyes are not very sensitive
to light in the first month of life. The amount of light
required for a 1 month old infant to be aware that light is
present (light detection threshold) is 50 times higher than
that of an adult. Therefore, it's alright to leave lights on
in the nursery. It won't affect their ability to sleep
despite the wives tales.
Infants, at first, lack the necessary
control for the ciliary focusing muscles to respond properly
to visual tasks. This phenomenon is noted during their first
two months of life. After this rough initial stage, they
begin to focus somewhat clear images on the retina. The
apparatus for focusing is operating but the optical system
cannot produce a perfectly clear image as yet. In order to
normalize their vision, a connection to the vision centers
of the brain is required. The optical system of the eye is
mature but in order to be useful the eye develops the
ability to see clearly through a functioning fovea. At this
stage detail vision is appreciated by the infant.
A research team at Smith Kettlewell Eye
Research Institute in San Francisco have, amazingly enough,
measured the visual acuity in many babies and toddlers. They
are able to obtain results even though a baby doesn't know
letters on the chart. Non verbal testing can be conducted
(objective tests) to detect refractive errors and muscle
skill. They discovered that in the first month of life,
babies have a visual acuity (VA) of about 20/120. This is
equivalent to the line below the big "E" on the
Snellen chart. By four months of age the acuity has reached
20/60 and by 8 months of age has improved to about 20/30.
The most important changes in infant
vision take place during the first 8 months of life. Over
the next several years, acuity gradually increases to adult
expectations. However, the baby at early vision stages still
enjoys a rich visual world. Remember that their world means
they can easily see the things that matter most to them:
your eyes, your lips, your smile, your nose, his own hands,
fingers, feet and toes. Experts understand a parent's
concern when they notice that at birth the baby's eye color
is blue but it changes soon after. The doctors answer that
at birth the darker pigments do not appear at first. Over a
period of time more dark pigment is produced which will
often change your child's eye color from blue to brown,
green, or a mixture of pigments.
Conventional wisdom has stated that
Infants prefer to look at things that present the most
contrast. Large black and white patterns present the highest
possible contrast and are most visible and attractive to
babies. But it has been discovered that they can see more
than that bold contrast. They are able to distinguish subtle
shades of gray. By about 2 months of age your baby is
capable of perceiving almost all of the subtle shadings that
contribute to their visual world and make it so interesting.
For instance, they can compute shadings
in clouds, shadings that are unique to a parents face and
even make out a white teddy bear on a white couch. Parents
often remark that they believe their baby’s exhibit
preferences for certain colors, usually bright blue or red.
It is difficult for examiners to tell if the infant truly
sees the color or is merely attracted to the color because
of its brightness, darkness or the contrast of the colored
object against its surroundings.
Studies performed at the University of
California in Berkeley revealed that infants as young as two
weeks of age possess color vision and can tell the
difference between a red object and a green one even though
their brightness is equal in intensity. Infants may not be
able to tell the difference between subtle color differences
until the state of development between retinal receptors at
the fovea and the brain vision center have matured.
Many parents have depended on black and
white mobiles for ideal stimulation. However, research
informs us that a normal visual environment without black
and white toys is still very rich and stimulating to your
toddler. A change from the usual black and white objects
might be a wise consideration so that a direction toward the
sort of colors that are appropriate for the parent could
work just as well or better for the child. It gives the
child a chance to explore more subtle and more important
objects. At this stage of development it is important for
the parents and examiners to note the baby's eye movements.
This will be paramount in the development of hand-eye
coordination and depth perception as the child matures.
Coordinated eye movements are also
essential in the development of visual acuity and contrast
sensitivity. During the first 2 months of life an infant's
eyes are not well coordinated. An observer may note that one
eye "wanders” or the eyes appear crossed. This is
normal for the newborn. However, it is important to check
with an eye care professional if this picture continues. By
the age of three months the infant's eyes are usually very
well coordinated. New born infants have the ability to track
moving objects if it is large enough, has enough contrast
and is moving at the right rate of speed. Their eyes will
have a jerky or saccadic motion. Infants may have difficulty
tracking if their room has a lot of distracting activity or
other objects are present to compete for attention.
At the ages of 7-12 months children are
more mobile. They are crawling, often quite rapidly and for
unexpectedly great distances. They improve their distance
judging and are improving their grasping and throwing of
objects as well as appreciation of grasp release. They are
developing a better awareness of their overall body and are
learning how to coordinate their vision with their body
A common question from a parent to eye
care professionals is “When will my baby recognize my
face?" Researchers at the University of Minnesota in
the 1970s found that newborn infants will tend to look at
the borders of objects, especially if the borders are
presented in high contrast. Studies show that babies prefer
human faces to all other patterns and images. At two months
of age they begin to appreciate the appearance of a hairline
or the edge of a face. They will pay more attention to
internal features of the face such as eyes and mouth. By 4
months of age they can recognize your face from all others
in the world.
To encourage visual interaction with your
newborn child, keep your hairstyle the same and avoid
altering your appearance. Your baby’s eyes, brain and body
undergo a dramatic change in physical size and coordination
during this time. It requires constant readjustment in order
to preserve the accuracy of vision, eye movements and
eye-hand coordination. Russell D. Hamer, PhD, has a
doctorate in Sensory Science and is presently an Associate
Scientist at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in
San Francisco. He says, "Imagine trying to learn to hit
a tennis ball or a baseball if your arms and legs were
constantly changing in size and strength."
The very latest findings come from
Florida Atlantic University. New research suggests that
babies learn to talk during a stage when the baby's cute
babbling gradually changes into syllables and eventually
into that first "mama" or "dada". They
actually become lip readers. Scientists have discovered that
at about the age of 6 months, babies begin shifting from the
intent eye gaze to studying mouths when people talk to them.
Developmental psychologist, David Lewkowicz says, “Babies,
in order to imitate you, have to figure out how to shape
their lips to make that particular sound they're hearing.
It's an incredibly complex process."