Over the first year or two of Baby’s life, his eyesight goes through a journey from a point where he can only see around 8 to 12 inches from his face (and even then only in black and white) to a point where he can see as clearly as any adult can, and has the hand-eye coordination to go with it.
The transformation doesn’t happen in Baby’s eyes, though – his eyes are fully equipped to see the world when he is born. In fact, Baby‘s eyes are already about 65 to 70% of their full size. Imagine if Baby’s feet were only going to grow about 30% more! The part of Baby that needs to grow so he can perceive the world around him isn’t his eyes, but his brain. Technically, Baby’s eyes can work just as well as yours, but he just can’t process that visual information yet. For instance, when Baby is first born, he has a much lower ability to perceive light than an adult, which helps him sleep even in environments you would think would be too bright for him, at least until he is a little older, and his improving eyesight turns him a little fussier. Even with this limited sight, though, babies can distinguish their primary caregivers’ faces from the faces of other adults after just a few hours of close contact with them
During the first months of life, the eyes start working together and vision rapidly improves. Hand-eye coordination begins to develop as Baby starts tracking moving objects with his eyes, and then reaching for them. By 8 weeks, babies are able to more easily focus their eyes on the people nearest to them.
Baby’s light perception and nearsightedness don’t start to approach the way an adult sees until he is around 3 months old. Colors are another story, though – Baby only sees in black and white for a few days, but by the end of his first week, he is already starting to see warm colors – generally red first, followed by yellow, orange and green. Blue and purple take a little longer to develop. At first, he can really only see bright colors and high contrasts, which could be why pastels have fallen out of fashion in baby toys – they may look adorable, but Baby won’t be able to see the colors in them well enough to know that until he’s a little older, though no less adorable themselves.
In Baby’s first 3 months, you might notice his eyes start to wander, sometimes without being synchronized with each other, as Baby is still working on getting both eyes to work together. He might also look kind of cross-eyed. If one of his eyes seems to always wander in one direction, there’s a chance that it could be a sign of a problem, so you might want to mention it to Baby’s healthcare provider, but generally, it’s perfectly normal, and should slow or stop by the time Baby is around 3 months old.
By the time Baby is around 3 months old, he is starting to lose his nearsightedness, and his light-perception is a lot closer to what it’ll be like when he is fully grown. He should also be able to follow moving objects with his eyes, and be able to switch his focus from one object to another without moving his head not long after that. Baby should begin to follow moving objects with his eyes and reach for things around 3 months old.
When Baby is around 4 months old, he will start to be able to tell different people apart based on the internal structures of faces, like eyes, nose, and mouth, instead of just by face shape and hair, which were his best visual cues for faces until that point. Now he won’t ever have to wonder again if he&;s meeting a different person just because they’ve gotten a haircut!
Until he is around 5 months old, he doesn’t have much in terms of depth perception, but around 5 months, that sense starts to kick in, which helps him out with tasks like reaching for and grabbing objects, and throwing them. By around his fifth or sixth month, his sense of color is almost fully developed, though he still probably has a preference for bright colors and strong contrasts. This increased visual awareness can feed into the development of stranger anxiety, or a fear of people Baby hasn’t met before, or does not see regularly.
The next significant milestone for Baby’s eyesight comes whenever he starts crawling, because crawling helps him work on strengthening the connection between what he can see and what he can do with his body – his hand-eye coordination, yes, but also its lesser-known cousins, foot-eye coordination and limb-eye coordination, and general spatial awareness. His coordination and depth perception also get good enough around 9 months that he can throw things with more precision – just what every parent has been waiting for.
From there, Baby is pretty much just honing and sharpening his visual and perceptual abilities, until some time, usually between his first or second birthday, when he has vision that can measure up to pretty much any adult’s.