A newborn has vision at birth, but it is the least mature of the senses. The newborn’s eyes can track or follow movement, but only within a distance of 9-12 inches from the infant’s face. The eyes of a newborn cannot yet focus as well as those of an adult. As a result, objects and people that the infant sees look a bit fuzzy.
Before 3 months, infants see best when looking at things “out of the corner of their eyes” (peripheral vision). They most easily notice movement and high-contrast patterns (e.g. light vs. dark). At about 1 month, they may get “visually stuck” and cry because they can’t STOP staring at one thing! Soon, they learn to “detach” their gaze to look at something else. Older infants gradually develop a preference for staring “right at something” (central vision), and by 3 months most like to watch their hands, and can visually follow an object that is moving in a circle (such as toys on a mobile).
The area of the brain that sends and receives messages about what the newborn sees will continue to develop over the next six months until the infant’s vision is as clear as an adult’s. Providing infants with opportunities to look at things in the world around them including your warm, smiling face helps to create an environment that supports visual development.
What you can do:
- Hold or place the infant about 9-12 inches from your face; this distance keeps you in the infant’s visual field.
- Don’t worry if her eyes wander independently or if she looks at you “out of the corner of her eye” in the early months, this is normal.
- By 2 months the infant especially likes to look at your face if you widen your eyes and move your mouth.
- You can move your head slowly so the infant can follow it from side to side or up and down.
- You can hang a mobile within the infant’s visual range.
- You can encourage an infant to follow an object with her eyes by slowly moving an object, such as a stuffed animal or toy 10-15 inches from the infant’s face.
- Pay attention to each infant’s cues
- Remember when looking at infants that they need to take breaks, and may tell you this by looking away. When they do this, be quiet for a moment.
- Give the infant time to “take a breather” from activity. When the infant looks back at you, begin the “conversation” again.