What You Need to Know About Infant Eye Contact Development

Mother and baby boy smiling at each other in bed

Within minutes of a newborn's birth, infant eye contact becomes the first form of communication between a baby and his parents.

Understanding Infant Eye Contact

Can your infant really see you? The answer is "yes." However, it's important to understand that his vision isn't fully developed at birth. You may notice your little one's eyes appear to cross as he tries his best to focus in on your face. That's because his priority at the moment is to make a connection with you. While his eyesight isn't fully functioning, he can see well enough to realize that his favorite object…your face…is right in front of him.

Experiments conducted by researchers over the past decade or so have offered a very simple conclusion-your baby wants to communicate with you. Since she isn't verbally able to do so, she uses her eyesight. When a mother or father gazes into a newborn's eyes, she may continue to hold that gaze for long periods of time. Newborns who zone in on a parent's face, however, may lose interest quickly if the parent's eyes are averted and eye contact cannot be established.

Infant Eyesight Development

When an infant is first born, he only sees in shades of gray. This is why newborns are more fascinated with black and white objects, pictures, and toys than multi-colored items for the first few weeks after birth. In the same respect, infants immediately latch on and familiarize themselves with their parents' faces, particularly their mothers'. These first instances of eye contact lay the important groundwork for establishing the ability to read and respond to various facial expressions, which become essential social signals. Through infant eye contact, social skills are developed and honed, and when an infant's first attempts at communication are rewarded, he is inspired to seek more contact with those who interact with him.

Developmental Milestones

Your child's eyesight will not fully develop for several months, so it's important to understand what you can expect and what might also signal a sign of trouble.

  • Before birth-Help boost your baby's eyesight development by eating healthy foods and avoiding nicotine, alcohol, and drugs while pregnant.
  • Newborn-A newborn will have difficulty focusing in on objects because nerve cells which control vision aren't fully developed. As your baby grows, however, her eyesight will develop.
  • The first few months-During the first few weeks, you may notice that your baby's eyes look out of focus or crossed. During this time, your infant's eyes will begin to adjust to a world of color. While she might initially prefer black and white objects, she'll gradually express more interest in colorful items as she grows. By the time she reaches three months of age, you should see a marked improvement in her eyesight. She'll be much more adept at focusing on objects and faces. You'll also notice that her interest in items within her range of vision inspires her to track these objects as they move.
  • Six months old-By the time he reaches six months old, your baby is able to see longer distances and move his eyes in a faster motion as he follows moving objects. By this time, his vision will have improved from approximately 20/400 at birth to around 20/25 now. His visual ability is evident in his hand-eye coordination as well.

Recognizing Problems

When should you worry? Immediately after your infant is born, his pediatrician will do an eye examination. After that, he will continue to exam your child's eyes at well-child checkups. In between these examinations, however, if you notice anything worrisome, such as a red eye, excessive tearing, eyesight misalignment, or bulging eyes, contact your pediatrician and set up an appointment with a pediatric ophthalmologist. Autism may also be indicated if a baby avoids eye contact. Finally, don't hesitate to contact your child's doctor with any concerns you might have concerning your baby's health.

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What You Need to Know About Infant Eye Contact Development