Your baby’s vision will go through many changes this first month. She was born with peripheral vision (the ability to see to the sides), and she’ll gradually acquire the ability to focus closely on a single point in the center of her visual field. She likes to look at objects held about 8 to 15 inches (20.3 to 38.1 cm) in front of her, but by one month she’ll focus briefly on things as far away as 3 feet (91.4 cm).
At the same time, she’ll learn to follow, or track, moving objects. To help her practice this skill, you can play tracking games with her. For example, move your head slowly from side to side as you hold her facing you; or pass a patterned object up and down or side to side in front of her (making sure it’s within her range of focus). At first she may only be able to follow large objects moving slowly through an extremely limited range, but soon she’ll be tracking even small, speedy movements.
At birth your baby was extremely sensitive to bright light, and her pupils were constricted (small) to limit the amount of light that entered her eyes. At two weeks of age, her pupils will begin to enlarge, allowing her to experience a broader range of shades of light and dark. As her retina (the light-sensitive tissue inside the eyeball) develops, her ability to see and recognize patterns also will improve.
The more contrast there is in a pattern, the more it will attract her attention, which is why she is most attentive to black-and-white pictures or high contrast patterns, such as sharply contrasting stripes, bull’s-eyes, checks, and very simple faces.
If you show your infant three identical toys—one blue, one yellow, one red—she probably will look longest at the red one, although no one yet understands why. Is it the color red itself? Or is it the brightness of this color that attracts newborn babies? We do know that color vision doesn’t fully mature before about four months, so if you show your baby two related colors, such as green and turquoise, she probably can’t tell the difference at this age.
At one month your baby still can’t see very clearly beyond 12 inches (30.4 cm) or so, but he’ll closely study anything within this range: the corner of his crib, toys attached to the side rail, or the shapes of his mobile dangling above the crib. The human face is his favorite image, however. As you hold him in your arms, his attention is drawn automatically to your face, particularly your eyes. Often the mere sight of your eyes will make him smile. Gradually his visual span will broaden so that he can take in your whole face instead of just a single feature like your eyes. As this happens he’ll be much more responsive to facial expressions involving your mouth, jaw, and cheeks. He’ll also love flirting with himself in the mirror. Buy an unbreakable mirror that’s specially made to attach inside cribs and playpens, so he can entertain himself when you’re not nearby.
In his early weeks, your baby will have a hard time following an object that is moving in front of his face. If you wave a ball or toy quickly in front of him, he’ll seem to stare through it, or if you shake your head, he’ll lose his focus on your eyes. But this will change dramatically by two months, when his eyes are more coordinated and can work together to move and focus at the same time. Soon he’ll be able to track an object moving through an entire half-circle in front of him. This increased visual coordination also will give him the depth perception he needs to track objects as they move toward and away from him. By three months, he’ll also have the arm and hand control needed to bat at objects as they move above or in front of him; his aim won’t be very good for a long time to come, but the practice will help him develop his hand-to-eye coordination. However, if you think your baby’s eyes may not be tracking together by three months of age, talk with your pediatrician.
Your baby’s distance vision also is developing at this time. You may notice at three months that he’s smiling at you halfway across the room, or studying a toy several feet away. By four months, you’ll catch him staring at the distant wall hanging or looking out the window. These are clues that his distance vision is developing properly.
Your infant’s color vision will mature at about the same rate. At one month, he’ll be quite sensitive to the brightness or intensity of color; consequently, he’ll prefer to look at bold patterns in sharply contrasting colors or in black-and-white. Young infants do not appreciate the soothing pastels we usually associate with a newborn’s nursery because of the babies’ limited color vision. By about four months, your baby finally will be responsive to the full range of colors and their many shades.
As his eyesight develops, your infant naturally will seek out more stimulating things to see. Around one month, his favorite patterns will be simple patterns with straight lines such as big stripes or a checkerboard. By three months, he’ll be much more interested in circular patterns (bull’s-eyes, spirals). This is one reason why faces, which are full of circles and curves, are so appealing to him.