Baby Eyes: Colour, Vision, and More

Babies are born with a remarkably developed set of senses. And although a newborn baby's eyesight is not completely mature at birth, right from the start, your baby can see the most important thing in the world: you, as you hold him in your arms.

Over the first few months of life, you'll be able to observe the ways that your baby's visual skills improve — specifically, his range of vision, tracking ability, and colour perception — along with related aspects of his development, such as arm and hand control.

When Do Babies' Eyes Change Colour?

At the same time that your baby's vision is evolving, the colour of his eyes may be changing due to a pigment called melanin, which also affects skin colour and hair colour. If your baby is born with darker eyes, brown or dark green, there's already a lot of melanin present, and your baby's eye colour probably won't change (although it could). But, light coloured eyes, such as blue or light grey, have less melanin to start with, and they could change to a different shade at some point as more melanin is produced. The timing for when babies' eyes change colour varies quite a bit: it could happen in the first few months or even the first year or two. It's hard to predict, but it's fun to watch for!

Your Baby's Eyesight: Range and Distance

When can babies see? And how far can babies see? At birth, your newborn's vision is limited, and by the end of the first month can only focus on something that's about 20 to 30 centimetres from him — such as your face when you're holding him, or the corner of his cot. He can't yet see very clearly beyond 30 centimetres. Within this range, he'll examine things quite closely. At first, when he looks at your face, his eyes will be drawn to a single facial feature (such as your eyes), but soon, he'll be able to include your entire face in his scope of vision.

This limited range will gradually expand, and at about 3 months, your baby may start to notice you when you are halfway across the room — and maybe even smile at you! He may also be able to gaze at an object lying just a few feet away, such as a toy. By the time he's 4 months old, as your baby's eyes develop, distance vision has progressed so much that he can stare at his reflection or look at something on the wall with interest, and by 7 months, his distance vision will be almost fully mature.

Your Baby's Eyesight: Tracking

Another part of your baby's visual development is tracking, or the ability to watch or follow a moving object with his eyes. It's a crucial skill for learning about the world and moving around safely, as eventually your child will need to understand how to track movements of cars, for example, before crossing the street.

Notice how your newborn will struggle to watch a rattle when you shake it in front of his face, but by 3 months, he'll be able to follow the rattle's movement. Depth perception starts to develop at about 4 months, after your baby has had some practice following objects coming toward him or away from him and can put together a three-dimensional view of the world.

When your baby is about 3 months old, he'll likely be able to use his arms and hands to swat at things in front of him (missing more often than not). Practicing this hand-eye coordination is great fun for him and for you too! Over time, as his motor skills improve, so will his aim and tracking ability. At about age 3 or 4, your child will be skilled enough to follow a ball coming toward him and extend his hands to catch it.

Your Baby's Eyesight: Colour Perception

Newborns, it turns out, do not see subtle colour differences. By 3 to 4 months, your little one can detect can actually start to see and tell the difference between several basic colours, especially red and green. Your baby's colour vision is more or less fully developed by about 4 months, when he'll be able to see lots of colours and even shades of colours.

So, what can babies see? Watch how your baby responds to colours and patterns, say, as he looks at a mobile. You may notice that at 1 month, he'll be drawn to simple black and white designs, such as bold stripes, or those with strongly contrasting colours. Around the time he's 3 months old, he'll likely prefer circular patterns, such as spirals or bull's-eyes.

As the months go by, enjoy your baby's progress, and share his delight in his new abilities and achievements. If you're interested in even more development milestones, then check out the typical growth phases of 3- to 9-month-old babies. Plus, if you have any questions or concerns about your baby's eyesight, be sure to raise them with your baby's doctor.

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