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What you should know about a newborn baby's eyesight?

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Understanding how a baby's visual system develops is fascinating, and it can help you to identify any changes in their eye health.

What You Should Know About a Newborn Baby’s Eyesight

Having a baby is one of the most exciting times in your life, and there’s a lot to learn about the new addition to your family! In the first few weeks of parenthood, you will notice a lot of things about your baby and its development.

Your baby’s visual system in particular is an interesting part of their development over the first few months of their life. For instance, did you know that at birth a baby can only see in black, white and shades of grey? Here we explain a little more about the development of your newborn’s eyesight and signs of any problems you might want to look out for.

The development of your baby’s vision

When your baby is born, the nerve cells in the retina and brain that control colour vision aren’t fully developed yet, so your baby can’t see colours just yet. They also might not be able to focus on near objects straight away. However, within a month your baby’s eyes will begin to develop colour vision quickly, starting with red, orange, yellow and green. It can take your baby longer to see blue and violet, as blue light has shorter wavelengths.

Over the next couple of months, your baby will learn how to shift their gaze without moving their head and develop better visual acuity. Their eyes will also begin to move better as a team.

By 6 months, your baby’s visual acuity will have to continue to improve and they will likely experience better hand-eye coordination.

Did you know that at birth your baby’s eyes are already 65% of their adult size? This is why some baby’s eyes can look really big, as infant development typically starts from the head down!

When should your baby have their eyes checked?

It can be hard to notice if there is anything wrong with your baby’s vision, but luckily there are a number of checks carried out at various points in their early life. There should be a basic check from the midwife or health visitor within 72 hours of birth, and another check at around 6-8 weeks.

Your GP can check your baby’s eyesight at 12 months, with a full eye examination at around 2 years old. Your child’s eyes may be checked again soon after they start school, around the age of 4 or 5. This is sometimes carried out by the school, but if not then you can take your child to your local optician.

Book an eye test

Baby girl during her eye test held by her mother

Eye conditions in babies

Any problems with your baby’s eyes or vision are much easier to treat while your baby’s eyes are still developing, and the earlier a condition is detected, the better. There are some eye conditions that can be quite common in babies, and it’s helpful to look out for any signs.

Strabismus, also known as a squint, is particularly common in young children. This is where the eyes point in different directions and can make it difficult for both eyes to focus on the same object. It typically develops before the age of 5, and requires treatment.

The main sign of strabismus is crossed eyes. If their eyes do not align in the same direction or move in a coordinated manner, your child may have strabismus. Treatment is usually very successful and typically consists of glasses, eye exercises or an injection to help the eye muscles realign.

In some cases, strabismus can lead to amblyopia, or a lazy eye. A lazy eye can also occur due to one or both eyes not building a strong link to the brain, and it can affect 1 in 50 children. Amblyopia is easily treated by wearing a patch over the stronger eye, allowing the weaker one to catch up.

Conjunctivitis can occur in babies, often caused by an infection, irritation or a blocked tear duct. Look out for sticky eyes or red and irritated eyes. It usually gets better on its own in a couple of weeks. However, if your baby is less than 28 days old and has red eyes, you should get an appointment with your GP.

Rare children’s eye conditions

While most eye conditions are quite common, there are some very rare children’s eye conditions that can be quite serious. Cataracts can occur in around 3-4 in every 10,000 babies, and babies can sometimes be born with it, known as congenital cataracts. Look out for cloudy patches in your baby’s eyes, rapid eye movement or a squint.

The second rare health problem is a type of eye cancer known as retinoblastoma. It typically affects children under the age of 5. Look for an unusual white reflection in your baby’s pupil, a squint or a change of colour in the iris. Luckily, 9 out of 10 children are cured, and it can be successfully treated if it picked up early.

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