Infant Visual Development

Understanding infant visual development will help you learn about what your baby can see as they grow! 

Your baby’s eyes and neural circuits continue to develop after birth. This is why your baby will have to develop visual acuity (ability to see detail), tracking, color perception, depth perception, and object recognition. By 6 months, their vision is almost as good as an adult’s. 

In this post, we’ll learn about infant visual development with our handy infant vision development timeline, and then go into more detail about each stage. It all starts with when babies’ eyes develop in the womb. After birth, they learn to focus and track objects with their eyes, distinguish colors, and see in three dimensions!

Infant Vision Development Timeline

  • At birth: Your baby can detect black, white and gray, and see 8-12 inches away
  • 1-3 weeks: Recognize mom’s face
  • 1 month: Hold their gaze for 10-12 seconds
  • 2 months: Track objects and see up to 18 inches away
  • 3 months: See red, yellow, blue, and green
  • 3-4 months: Reach out for things they see
  • 4-5 months: Depth perception begins developing
  • 5 months: See up to 15 feet away
  • 6 months: See up to 30 feet away

I love this gif from Business Insider that shows what a baby can see each month, from newborn to 12 months!

When do babies’ eyes develop in the womb? 

Pregnancy is the start of infant visual development. Your baby’s eyes begin developing as early as week 6 of pregnancy! They continue to grow rapidly until birth. Did you know your baby’s eyes are about 75% of the size of an adult’s eyes at birth?

Don’t worry, we won’t get quite this in depth in this article!

First trimester

During pregnancy, your baby’s eyes form during week six and the retinas begin forming during week 7. In week 8 the eyes are clearly visible, and week 9, eyelids form. By 12 weeks, the eyes have moved to the front of the face, and your baby’s eyelids are closed.

Second Trimester

 Around 16 weeks, your baby’s eyes can slowly move. Faint eyebrows may be visible by 20 weeks. At this point, your baby spends most of their time asleep in REM (rapid eye movement). Their eyes will open around 26 weeks. 

Third Trimester

Around 28 weeks, eyelashes form. At 32 weeks, your baby will open their eyes while they are awake and close them during sleep. In week 33, your baby’s pupils change size in response to light- your baby can detect light! 

What can an infant see? 0-2 months

From zero to two months, your baby can primarily see in black, white, and shades of gray. They can detect changes in brightness, but only at about one fiftieth that of an adult. This is due to the fact that their pupils are restricted and allow less light in.  At first, they are only able to see objects about eight to twelve inches away, like their parent’s faces. In fact, by two weeks, they are able to recognize their mother’s face and can tell her apart from a stranger, and they may be able to recognize her as early as 4 days. Scientists theorize that a one month old baby primarily recognize the hairline and outline of the face, and that they also focus on the eyes. By two months, your baby may be able to make out and recognize other features of your face, like your mouth.

Newborns find contrasting patterns fascinating. During their first two months, your baby is developing the muscles that control their eyes. That is why you may see your baby’s eyes flickering side to side, crossing or not focusing. In fact, your baby’s eyes may not be coordinated up to half the time! Since focusing with two eyes is critical for depth perception, babies at this stage are not really able to see in three dimensions.

When do babies start tracking objects with their eyes?

Because of this muscle development, around 2 months old, your infant can start tracking movements with their eyes. However, the fovea, retina, and brain circuitry are still developing at this point, making images unclear. By two months, your baby’s sensitivity to light improves and they detect light only when it is about ten times stronger than what you can see. These changes happen because your baby’s retina and photoreceptors are developing. 

high contrast books are great for infant visual development!

The best infant learning activities for this age involve high contrast images. These can be from books, contrast cards, apps, or toys, and any of these options are great for an infant almost any time. Some parents find their children enjoy looking at the images during tummy time. Or story time before bed. Or calming their baby while they are upset. Others tape contrast cards where they can see them from their crib, playpen, car seat or stroller. And some parents report their children were entertained by high contrast cards, books, and apps until they were 18 months old!

What can an infant see? 2-4 months

From two to four months, your child will develop the ability to distinguish bright colors. At birth, they could see black, white, and gray. By three months, your baby is able to distinguish red, yellow, blue and green! Between two and four months, your baby will begin reaching out to grab things they see, and then put them in their mouths! Brightly colored, moving objects will fascinate them!

These developments makes the high contrast books, toys, and apps like those listed above still great for your little one. And it expands the range of things they like to look at to include books, toys, and apps with bright colors. They are also refining the ability to follow and track moving objects by moving their eyes and turning their heads. Now, your baby will probably love looking at mobiles and toys they can reach out to bat and play with!

Infant gyms, like this one, are tons of fun for babies at this age. My baby loves looking at and playing in this tent gym!

Babies also just love looking at anything new, exciting, or different! Taking them out with you to run errands or to see new sights! Check out some ideas here!

What can an infant see? 4 months and beyond

As they gain mobility, your baby’s hand- eye coordination is improving, so that they develop the visual skills they need to crawl. This includes reaching out for items that catch their attention as we read about earlier around three to four months. 

And around 4 to 5 months,  their depth perception is improving, which is another necessary skill for crawling. Meanwhile, your baby is beginning to understand how an object looks from different distances and angles. This helps them recognize whether an object is in front of or behind something else. By this time, they can see clearly about 15 feet away

Around six months, your baby can see almost as well as you. They can focus on objects up to about 30 feet away and distinguish a wide range of colors.  After 6 months, your baby will continue improving their ability to focus on fine detail, and distinguish different shades of the same color. Their depth perception is improving further, as they continue to understand the world around them!

Apps that involve basic hand-eye coordination by tapping the screen are great for infants at this age range.  Toys that involve hand eye coordination, move or make noise are great! Even watching a ball roll can be fascinating!

Infant Visual Development: Conclusions

Infant visual development starts in pregnancy. At birth, your baby can’t see much and still needs to learn to understand what they are seeing. You and your baby can play with high contrast and brightly colored books, toys, and apps to help them practice and develop their visual skills!

Related: Infant Hearing Development

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