What Can Baby See Part 2: Vision Development in the First 2 Months

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When a newborn first opens their eyes to the world, vision is a sense that is mostly dedicated to recognizing mom and dad (see Part 1 of this series about newborn vision). But as new parents know, babies develop rapidly over the first few weeks of life, and vision is no exception! In the first 1 to 2 months of life, your baby is learning how to focus and move their eyes to visually process the world around them.  InfantSEE providers refer to this stage of visual development as "Learning to Look". Your baby is actively learning how to use their eyes for the first time, and at this stage eye muscle movement development includes:
  • Pursuits: slow, tracking movements 
  • Accommodation: focusing on near objects
  • Convergence: eyes turning inward as near objects are brought closer
A 1 to 2 month old baby's eyes should be actively moving and exploring, but the eyes won't always work together.  It's very common for parents to notice that their child's eyes are sometimes misaligned (or crossed) during this developmental stage.  Unless the misalignment is constant, seeing your child's eyes cross from time to time is completely normal and expected from six to eight weeks old. If you are concerned about misalignment, your eye doctor can assess the alignment of your child's eyes by using the Hirschberg test where a light is used to determine if the eyes are fixating equally or if an inward or outward eye turn is occurring. 

By six weeks of age, most infants can make stable eye contact with their parents. Avoidance of eye contact is commonly cited as a hallmark of autism, but interestingly, research shows that infants that are later diagnosed with autism typically make normal eye contact at 2 months of age. Infants that go on to be diagnosed with autism then experience a gradual decline in eye contact from age 2 to 6 months. If your child is not making good eye contact by the end of 2 months, it is more likely that your child has a visual health or developmental issue that requires immediate attention. Infants that are born with high amounts of hyperopia or farsightedness can have difficulty holding eye contact because their high prescription makes it impossible to focus clearly on their parents' faces.

At 2 months old, my daughter is making eye contact with her grandmother and smiling back when grandma smiles!
Infants at this age pay extra attention to faces and the motions involved in creating different facial expressions like smiles and frowns. Research has shown that by 3 months of age, infants have adult-like abilities in global motion sensitivity, meaning they can see the movements of your changing facial expressions as well as you can when you look at other people.  Interestingly, studies have shown that young infants respond more strongly to pictures of smiling females than males. Study authors theorize that this is because infants on average spend more time looking at female faces (mom's especially). Using head-mounted cameras revealed that between 1 and 3 months of age, infants looked at faces 25 % of the time, primarily female faces (70 %) of adult age (81%) of their own race (96 %).

Activities for 1-2 Month Old Babies to Aid in Vision Development
  • Help your child develop awareness of their own body by moving their arms and legs.  Simple activities like clapping your baby's hands together, or bicycling their legs are great for development.  
  • Making faces at your baby can be a building block for language development and visual communication. 
  • Developing Pursuit Movements
    • Have baby visually track an interesting toy or your face from side to side and up and down with their eyes. Try clucking or cooing to grab your baby's attention if they lose their gaze. 
Our N.C. State Mobile has high contrast black, white, and red mascots - perfect for young infants to focus on!
    • Mobiles are excellent at this age to begin stimulating eye muscle movements.  Place your baby flat on his or her back underneath the mobile, ideally no further than 2 feet away to make sure your baby can clearly see the moving objects.  A low hanging mobile also encourages your baby to have to move their head from side to side to track the movement of the mobile, which can help reduce the risk of plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome). Using high contrast black and white or red objects for the mobile increases visibility.  Your baby will not only be developing ocular muscle skills by tracking the mobile as it spins, but as they swing their arms and legs, they are also developing the first stages of balance and core muscle strength that will help them eventually learn to roll and crawl in the coming months. 
  • Developing Accommodation and Convergence
    • Hold your baby up above your face, making eye contact, and then bring them slowly towards you.  Maintain eye contact the entire time. You should see your baby turn their eyes inwards as they move closer to your face (convergence).  Then move baby back away from your face again by extending your arms. You should see baby's eyes move back to straight ahead alignment. 
    • You can vary this exercise by doing diagonal movements (hold baby up and to the right and bring them to your face, and then up and to your left and bring them to your face). This helps build "asymmetrical convergence" and cross-body awareness. 

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