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tips for helping your baby's vision development

A baby’s vision development goes through a radical and fast-paced process from birth to two years old. While most of this happens naturally as their eye muscles, optic nerve, and brain strengthen their connections to one another over time, there are things you can do to help your baby’s vision coordination and support optimal eye and vision health.

Baby’s Vision Development From Birth To 24 Months

First, let’s review how vision development progresses for a person with healthy eyes.

In the beginning, a baby’s eyes are relatively unfocused, and babies can only see hints of their peripheral world (the side vision). This is why all babies appear to have crossed or lazy eyes at times – something that disappears as eye muscles grow stronger.

If you’ve ever looked into a newborn’s eyes, you may notice their pupils are much smaller than normal, sparing them from excessive light intrusion that eye muscles can’t control yet. Newborn vision begins slow and cozy, focusing and inputting essential information from the most important people in their world- their mother or primary caregivers.

Over the next days, weeks, and months, the pupils grow larger in alignment with the strengthening of muscle and eye coordination. Unless there’s a hereditary issue affecting the eyes/vision, babies begin exploring and learning about the world around them through their eyes since vision development occurs faster than physical motor coordination skills (reaching, grabbing, manipulating, crawling/walking, etc.). As a result, delays or issues with a baby’s vision directly affect development in other areas.

Developmental Stages: Ideas To Support Your Baby’s Vision

Pediatricians assess your child’s vision and eye movement at each of their visits and will let you know if they see any red flags. By six months, we recommend parents bring their baby to the optometrist for their first visit. Although they’re largely non-verbal and can’t read, we have tools that let us know if a baby struggles to focus or if their crossed eyes or a lazy eye are more significant than normal. The earlier vision issues are diagnosed and addressed, the better off your child is.

Outside of scheduled optometry visits, vision play or proactive vision therapy offer ways parents, guardians, and primary caregivers can help babies and toddlers strengthen eye muscles and the connection between the eyes, optic nerve, and brain.  Here are things you can do to encourage healthy eye and vision development.

Birth to four months

During the first four months, babies are developing their central and long-distance vision (all babies start out very nearsighted!). They’re also developing color vision, which is why they’re more drawn to black-and-white patterns and primary colors. 

To support vision development for these first few months:

  • Use a very dim red light in the baby’s room (simulating the light from a fire or glowing embers) to see their immediate surroundings when they wake up at night without you.
  • Keep toys within 12 inches or less from your baby’s eyes so they work to focus on them. If they’re further away, they look more like a big blur, and babies won’t typically work as hard to see them.
  • Hang a fun mobile above or just outside the crib.
  • Change your child’s position in the crib – and the crib itself – from time to time so they have new perspectives and reasons to work on focusing.
  • Talk or sing to your baby when you’re moving around the room so they strengthen their ability to connect vision and soundtracking.

From four to eight months

By now, your baby can see much further away and provide better depth perception and a more 3-D perspective. That encourages them to reach for things, and they continue to coordinate their arm and leg muscles with their head, neck, and eye muscles. They’ll start to scoot and then crawl towards what interests them.

  • Provide toys with different textures and colors.
  • Hang a new mobile or change it out, hanging or placing it further away from before.
  • Give them safe spaces to crawl and explore, along with toys placed at varying distances to help them develop depth perception.
  • Play word, song, and touch games (like patty cake) with them. In addition to being a fun bonding experience, they learn to mimic mouth shapes and sounds by watching and listening.

From nine to 12 months

This is a very fun and busy age. Babies are fully awake to the world around them, and by now, they are on the go. Believe it or not, we recommend not over-encouraging a baby to walk. Crawling is an important motor control process. It does more to develop the connection between the left and right brain across the corpus callosum – and hand-eye coordination. 

  • If your pediatrician feels their development is on track, resist the urge to “force” walking. Let them scoot, crawl, and practice standing in their own time.
  • This is a great age to start providing larger stackable and put-together/take-apart toys. These toys (which can be as simple as nesting measuring cups, nesting bowls, stirring spoons, etc) continue developing their hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
  • Play very gentle and small versions of “catch” with a soft, squishy ball or square. Try not to be discouraged by their love of “dropping things” to look and see where they landed. This is all part of the growing up process.

Between the first and second years

If you haven’t been to your baby’s first optometrist appointment, now’s the time to schedule one. In addition to assessing eye and vision health, early experiences in our office keep us familiar and decrease any anxiety, stress, or fear of visiting us in the future.

Continue supporting and helping your baby’s vision develop by:

  • Avoid screen time as much as possible. Learning games are not as helpful as “they” want you to believe. Copious studies prove screen time should be completely avoided before 18 months, and children ages two to five should access “no more than an hour of “high-quality programming.”
  • Providing a rotating assortment of puzzles, safe connecting/disconnecting toys, building blocks, and balls.
  • Give them safe opportunities to climb and explore, further developing their depth perception along with self-empowerment and resilience (barring a true injury/risk, let them fall and get back up again…it’s one of life’s most essential skills!).

Schedule Your Baby’s First Optometrist Appointment At Atlantic Eye Institute

The team at Atlantic Eye Institute supports healthy vision development at all stages of life. Schedule your baby or toddler’s first eye appointment and learn more ways to help your baby’s vision develop strong and focused!

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