Eyesight develops rapidly in the first year of life. Newborn eyes are physically able to see just fine, but things are fuzzy at first because the brain isn't ready to take in so much visual information.
Find out how the eyes contribute to baby development as your baby is able to process more visual details about his or her world with each passing month. Plus: See our tips for supporting and stimulating your little one's evolving ability to see.
Babies can see as soon as they're born – but they don't see like we do. Newborns can see bright colors, large shapes, and faces (if they're close enough!).
In her first month, your baby can focus no farther than about 8 to 12 inches away – just far enough to make out your face when you're holding her. She might not be able to really look at you at first, but as she starts having more time awake during the day, her improving eyesight allows her to zero in.
At that point your face is the most fascinating thing in her world. Cuddle her close so she can get a good look.
Create a contrast
At 1 month, your baby sees in color but can't see subtle changes of color or tell the difference between colors such as red and green. Babies this age enjoy looking at simple, high-contrast patterns, such as those on black-and-white toys and mobiles.
Get great ideas for toys for newborns.
Your baby will love engaging with you as he grows. Don't be shy – it's your job to sing, smile at, and talk to your little one. Looking into each other's eyes can help create an emotional connection between the two of you.
This is also study hall for him: Watching your changing facial features and expressions teaches him about human emotion and how to interpret it on the faces of others.
By 3 to 4 months of age, most babies have emerged from those blurry early days when large objects were all they could see at any distance.
Your baby can probably focus on smaller items and enjoy shapes and more complex patterns. She can distinguish colors much more easily, but primary colors are most appealing. By 4 months her eyes are working together, too, and she's starting to work on depth perception.
She may now pay attention to that colorful mobile in the nursery – a great stimulus for visual development. Reaching for the exciting things she sees helps her work on her budding eye-hand coordination.
See a checklist of toys for babies up to 12 months old.
By 4 months of age, a mirror can be one of your baby's best friends. At first she won't realize that the person in the mirror is her, but eventually she'll figure it out. In the meantime, your baby's own reflection offers an ever-changing, moving picture that responds to her own movements.
Any mirror will do, but one nice option is to install a baby-safe mirror in the crib or next to the changing table for fun and visual stimulation. You'll find many on the market created for just this purpose.
Hide the object
By 5 months, your baby's eyesight has improved considerably. If you hide an object and leave it slightly visible, there's a good chance he'll be able to spot it. Try hiding his favorite stuffed animal, for example. Tuck the creature in a corner or place it on a shelf. Your baby will be delighted when he finds it.
Here's another topic of conversation for you and your baby – and a way to help her work on an important visual skill: Look at photos of family and friends together. At first you can point out and name the people in the pictures. Eventually your baby will recognize and remember the faces of people she knows well – and be able to name them herself.
Seeing a new place gives your baby tons of visual stimulation and is fun for you too. Try heading to a park, through the woods, or to the beach.
Your adventure doesn't have to take you far or be anything exotic. Any place you haven't been before will do the trick, even if it's just around the corner. Point out objects and sights – for example, pine cones, shells, rocks, planes, trains, flowers, dogs, tall buildings, staircases, leaves on trees … for your baby, it's all novel and exciting. Call his attention to things he hasn't seen before and tell him what they're called. Describe the color and function or beauty of what he's seeing.
When you're looking for something for your baby to feast her eyes on, try a visually striking board book. Board books can stand up to curious fingers and allow even rambunctious babies to turn pages without ruining the book or risking a paper cut.
Your baby may have definite preferences. Try out different books to see what she likes. If you live near a good public library you can probably check out a nice selection. It's nice to own some favorites, and then mix it up with library copies or books borrowed from friends.
See our favorite board books.
Get tips for reading to your baby.
The eyes at age 1
At 12 months your baby's vision is equivalent to adult vision.
Of course your baby son or daughter can't yet interpret visual information in a mature way, but the eyes are physically ready to take it all in. Experience, education, and ongoing social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development will do the rest as your child grows up.