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Did You Know?

The iris, or the colored part of the eye with the pupil in the middle, contains most of the pigment cells that determine the color of the eye. Most Caucasian babies are born with bluish eyes because the pigment that determines eye color is scattered thinly in newborns. As the child grows, the pigment is distributed throughout the iris, and the brownish pigment begins to dominate. The process can take several months, and is determined by genetics, with brown eyes the dominant trait.

Your baby's developing eyes

Prenatal care: A bright start

When you are expecting, proper prenatal care and nutrition are very important to the development of healthy eyes and the related nervous system.  Researchers are continually discovering more about the link between nutrition and eyesight.

At birth: Opening to a new world

It might take a moment or two for your baby’s eyes to open.  His eyes should be examined for signs of congenital eye problems. These are rare, but early diagnosis and treatment are important to your child’s development. Health professionals typically administer an antibiotic ointment, such as erythromycin, to prevent infection.  Within a short period of time, he will begin to focus on objects less than a foot away, such as mom’s face when nursing.

The latest research shows that complex shapes and high contrast targets best stimulate the interest of infants.  When setting up baby’s room, include décor that is bright, contrasting and varied.  Babies’ eyes are drawn to new objects, so be prepared to change the location of items.  Also have a nightlight, to provide visual stimulation when the baby is awake in bed. While children should be put down to sleep on their backs to reduce the chance of SIDS, they should have supervised time on their stomach. This provides important visual and motor experiences.

Two months: Learning to look

For the first six to eight weeks of life, it is normal for a child’s eyes to not always track together. This should not be a concern unless the child’s eyes are never aligned or their alignment does not gradually improve. Tears are normal for many children because the tear drainage ducts may not have fully opened. They usually open on their own, but the doctor should be informed and he or she will suggest what to do to stimulate the opening of the ducts if it continues or seems excessive.

Activity: Stimulating both sides of the body by moving a child’s arms or legs simultaneously, as parents tend to do naturally, is helpful in fostering appropriate bilateral and binocular development.

Four months: Eyes, brains, hands

During the first four months of life, your baby should begin to follow moving objects with the eyes and reach for things.  At first, this will be inconsistent, and later more accurate, as eye-hand coordination and depth perception begin to develop. During the next few months, your baby should begin to use his/her arms and legs. Eye movement and eye/body coordination skills continue to develop as vision progressively stimulates and guides movement.

  • Use a nightlight in your baby’s room.
  • Change the crib’s position frequently and your child’s position in it.
  • Keep reach-and-touch toys within your baby’s focus, about eight to twelve inches.
  • Talk to your baby as you walk around the room.
  • Alternate right and left sides with each feeding.
  • Hang a mobile above and outside the crib.

Six months: A trip to the optometrist

Your baby’s first visit to your doctor of optometry for a comprehensive eye assessment should be scheduled at six months of age. The optometrist will test for visual acuity, excessive or unequal amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism, evaluate eye alignment, and examine eye teaming ability.  The health of your baby’s eyes will be assessed as well. Although problems are not common, it is important to identify children who have specific risk factors at this stage. Vision development and eye health problems can be more easily corrected if treatment is begun early.

  • Let your baby explore different shapes and textures with his or her fingers.
  • Give your baby the freedom to crawl and explore.
  • Play “patty cake” and “peek-a-boo” with your baby.

Eight to twelve months: Getting mobile

Your baby is mobile now, being attracted to objects in their visual environment. He is using both eyes together to judge distances, and is grasping and throwing objects with greater precision. Crawling is important for developing eye-hand-foot-body coordination.

  • Give your baby stacking and take-apart toys
  • Provide objects your baby can touch, hold, and manipulate.

The mission of Optometry Cares - The AOA Foundation is to expand eye care awareness, education and research and access to eye health and vision care to everyone in the United States in order to enhance human performance and quality of life.

Optometry Cares - The AOA Foundation supports VISION USA, InfantSEE, the Scholarship Fund, the National Optometry Hall of Fame, Healthy Eyes Healthy Children Community Grants, the Archives & Museum of Optometry and Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief.

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