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May 2nd, 2011
08:52 AM ET

When will my baby see normally?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Question asked by Bella of Charlotte, North Carolina

I have a newborn. My pediatrician says to get close to his face when he's awake so he can see me. When will he start to see normally?
Expert answer
Congratulations, and thanks for your question. I hear this question often from new parents.

While a baby's hearing develops fully before birth (by the end of the second trimester), a new infant can only clearly see about a foot or so in front of him - which is conveniently about the distance between his face and yours when you are feeding or holding him.

In addition to gazing at human faces, babies tend to like bright colors and contrasts, probably because they are easiest to see. Dull objects and people at a distance may appear like shadowy figures.

For more details I consulted with Dr. Stephen Levine, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Thomas Eye Group in Atlanta. Dr. Levine reports that a baby's vision allows him to see close objects at first (about the equivalent of 20/400 vision, meaning he can clearly see an object 20 feet away that a person with normal vision can see well from 400 feet away) and then improves greatly, to about 20/60 by 6 months of age.

By a few months of age he will start to make eye contact and track moving objects around a room. A child's eyesight approaches full development around 3 years of age, although it may continue to improve slightly for several years.

Because of this rapid development of vision, it's important that any problems be addressed as early as possible in order to avoid or minimize permanent vision loss.

Your pediatrician will check your baby's eyes at every visit and screen your child's eyesight no later than his 3-year-old checkup, but if you notice eye crossing lasting longer than a few months or think your baby isn't seeing well, it's important to get the eyes checked sooner.

If you have further questions about your baby's vision, be sure to contact his doctor. Good luck!


soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Katie

    You know, I've heard this again and again and I still maintain that babies can see, they just don't know what they're looking at. They haven't processed it yet. It's clear, it's available, they just don't know what they're seeing. I spent several hours observing newborns in a hospital nursery and one of the first thing I noticed was that they tracked movement in the corridor, OUTSIDE the viewing window. When I had my own kids, they could see me in the doorway of their bedroom. Babies CAN see. Like I said, they just don't know what they're looking at, but they figure it out pretty quickly.

    May 2, 2011 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katherine E

      As a neuroscientist, you are pretty much on the mark here. Babies can see but their brain is still learning how to process and interpret what they see. So, a newborn is able to see that something is happening in the background but won't be able to distinguish detail or understand what is going on. He is still learning how to distinguish shapes, edges, and colors. People often compare it to seeing a blurry picture, which is close but not quite what's going on here. To see the world as an infant sees it, you would first need to forget how to see.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
  2. John

    Really well done answer there. "When will my baby see normally" if you'll look thru the article, you'll see the answer is not given. And I thought it was just McDonald's servers who couldn't understand basic questions.

    May 3, 2011 at 00:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lynn

    We learned our son had a significant impairment when he was 2, but mostly due to luck (the daycare brought in the Missouri Lions Eye Research Foundation for free screenings). We had no idea his vision was so farsighted, as he appeared to do normal things with no problems. The ophthalmologist is optimistic his vision can be corrected since he is so young, but his condition can be permanent if caught even a few years later. Based on our experience (still ongoing treatments), I can't help but recommend parents not wait until the typical 4 or 5 y.o. screenings. Our ophthalmologist has recommended we have our next child brought in for a complete screening at 2 y.o. But clearly I'm biased. 😉

    And @John – there is no simple answer.

    May 3, 2011 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. nina786

    yes baby can see ....:)

    http://www.seemeagain.com

    May 5, 2011 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. edconroy56

    Great article! Lots of useful and important information for many people.

    September 6, 2011 at 22:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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