Infant Visual Development


At birth, visual structures are yet immature and the visual system develops during the first year of life; therefore, parents and physicians should pay close attention to potential problems during the first year has a determining role in a child's visual development and prevention of complications caused by visual impairment such as learning difficulties.

Birth to Four Months

Babies often see ' movement' before anything else. Babies who are born timely (38 to 42 weeks of gestation) should be able to see changes in their mothers' faces like laughter, frown, etc. in the first week after birth. At this time, perception of color is still not fully mature; also depth perception occurs during the first year of life along with eye movement coordination. Eye muscle coordination in new-born babies and infants is very incomplete. An infant's eyes are not well coordinated and often appear to wander or to be crossed. This condition is called strabismus. If strabismus does not resolve by itself until 3 or 4 months of age, the baby should better be examined by an ophthalmologist.

First Signs and Symptoms of Possible Eye and Vision Problems

In some cases, the baby should be examined before 3-4 months of age. These include: severe deviation of the eyes, lack of eye movement before 3 months of age, the inward deviation in both of the eyes, one eye moves and the other doesn't or one looks significantly different from the other when moving. Early diagnosis of strabismus is very important because if left untreated, strabismus can lead to amblyopia or "lazy eye" If one of the eyes does not see well because of strabismus, eye coordination is disrupted. Also if the brain does not receive an image from one of the eyes, it will ignore signals sent from the affected eye over time and ultimately the person will suffer from severe amblyopia and subsequent severe loss of vision.

Premature Babies and Eye Problems

Visual development in preterm infants takes slightly more than infants who are born timely. The possibility of strabismus and amblyopia in infants who are born before 35 weeks of gestation is 30% higher. The more premature a baby is, the higher is the risk.

The infant should pay complete attention to light (e.g. a lamp) or toy hangers that usually are hung over his bed. If by three months of age, a baby’s eyes are not able to track objects which you hold in front of his eyes and move from side to side, a pediatrician should be consulted. However, in some cases later visual development occurs which is called visual developmental delay.

Abnormal Eye Movements

A disorder called nystagmus may occur in infancy. In this disorder, the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled back-and-forth, rotational or erratic movements. It may be a result of impaired vision, defects in the neural pathway from the eye to the brain or albinism (lack of pigment). Nystagmus may also be hereditary. Babies who suffer from nystagmus may have poor or normal vision. If nystagmus persists after 3 months of age, baby should be examined by an ophthalmologist.

In short, it must be said that the first 3 - 4 months of life is extremely important in terms of visual development and the attention of parents and timely consultation with ophthalmologists play a crucial role in baby's eyesight.

Four to Six Months 

At this age, your baby must be able to reach for toys which you hold for him or touch them. At first, this touching may be accidental and random, but as his vision and depth perception develop, he can grasp at objects more freely.

Six to Eight Months

At this age, your baby starts to push himself up, roll over, and probably crawl. At this point you can place a toy in front of the child so that he is forced to roll over or crawl a little ahead to grasp it. This helps baby's vision.

Eight to Twelve Months

Between 8 and 12 months of age, your baby may move on all fours or walk. Instead of encouraging your child to walk as soon as possible, try to encourage him to move on all fours because it creates Eye/hand coordination. At this age, especially when your baby is on a sofa or bed, or near the steps, you should take extra care of him because a child at this stage is still lacking depth perception and as a result can't judge distances. In other words, he is not able to understand that the floor is lower than the bed edge, so falling off the bed or stairs is a possibility.