The human race has a prolonged period of dependence; years must pass before an individual is considered mature. However, one function that develops quickly over the first few months of life is a person’s eyesight. The sense of vision achieves the greatest percentage of its development in the first eight months of life.
The eyes begin to develop two weeks after conception, and their development is very vulnerable to the mother’s diet. Smoking or drinking alcohol can lead to low birth weight, which is a predictor for vision problems. Any kind of medication, even aspirin, can hurt the baby’s visual development.
By seven months, the structure of the eyes is almost completely developed. Amazingly, at birth, baby eyes are 65-70% the size of adult eyes. The large size of the infant eyes, in many species, is believed to induce a caring response in adult members of the population.
Birth to Four Months
When a baby is born, the ability to see contrast is the first thing to develop. Babies will only see in black and white at first, but by 8 or 9 weeks will be able to see shades of gray quite well. They do not seem to focus, but this is because the visual cells in a baby’s retina and brain are not yet fully developed. The tiny cilia muscles that operate the lens and the focal point of the retina, called the fovea, are also not yet fully developed.
That is fine, however, as babies can see everything that is most important to them: the eyes, nose, and mouth of their parent’s. As soon as a few days after birth, babies prefer their mother’s face to a strangers’. The newborn sees the main boundaries between the face and the hair. New mothers are advised to keep their hairstyle the same, as when that familiar facial landmark is covered with a scarf, the infant’s preference for her mother goes away.
You can help stimulate your newborn’s visual development by doing the following:
- Move your baby’s crib to different parts of the room. This changes contrast patterns and exercises different neural cells. Changing the artwork on the walls will do the same.
- Change sides every time when feeding, whether breast or bottle. This is to allow the eye and brain structures to develop equally.
- Walk about and talk to your baby in her crib. This will develop her aural-visual coordination, important in depth perception.
Four to Six Months
Babies this age have grown considerably, and their brains and eyes are able to process a great deal of information. By six months of age, an infant’s visual acuity is very close to an adult’s, although it continues to develop. All that practice with hand-eye coordination has paid off handsomely by this time. Babies now have the ability to pick things up and aim them accurately into their mouths!
A child’s first eye exam should take place at 6 months to rule out any further conditions that were not routinely evaluated at birth.
Seven Months to a Year
Development speeds up as babies begin to crawl, a crucial stage in left-right coordination that must not be skipped in favor of early walking. Crawling, especially to get to something the baby likes, helps to develop and balance both eyes, as well as muscles in the spine and extremities.
One to Two Years and Beyond
All of a baby’s functions continue to develop as he/she grows. A rich visual environment will stimulate visual development, as will toys that challenge balance and ability to tell one shape or color from another. Vision stimulates and enables development of the whole body and every function.
Sara Roberts is a content contributor for Just Eyewear, a prescription eyeglasses and prescription sunglasses retailer.