Over the first year or two of Baby’s life, their eyesight goes through a journey from a point where they can only see around 8 to 12 inches from their face (and even then only in black and white) to a point where they 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 – their eyes are fully equipped to see the world when they are 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 they can perceive the world around them isn’t their eyes, but their brain. Technically, Baby’s eyes can work just as well as yours, but they just can’t process that visual information yet. For instance, when Baby is first born, they have a much lower ability to perceive light than an adult, which helps them sleep even in environments you would think would be too bright for them, at least until they are a little older, and their improving eyesight turns them 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 their 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 they are 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 their first week, they are 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, they 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 they're a little older, though no less adorable themself.
In Baby’s first 3 months, you might notice their eyes start to wander, sometimes without being synchronized with each other, as Baby is still working on getting both eyes to work together. They might also look kind of cross-eyed. If one of their 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, they are starting to lose their nearsightedness, and their light-perception is a lot closer to what it’ll be like when they are fully grown. They should also be able to follow moving objects with their eyes, and be able to switch their focus from one object to another without moving their head not long after that. Baby should begin to follow moving objects with their eyes and reach for things around 3 months old.
When Baby is around 4 months old, they 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 their best visual cues for faces until that point. Now they won’t ever have to wonder again if they&;s meeting a different person just because they’ve gotten a haircut!
Until they are around 5 months old, they doesn’t have much in terms of depth perception, but around 5 months, that sense starts to kick in, which helps them out with tasks like reaching for and grabbing objects, and throwing them. By around their fifth or sixth month, their sense of color is almost fully developed, though they still probably have 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 they start crawling, because crawling helps them work on strengthening the connection between what they can see and what they can do with their body – their hand-eye coordination, yes, but also its lesser-known cousins, foot-eye coordination and limb-eye coordination, and general spatial awareness. Their coordination and depth perception also get good enough around 9 months that they can throw things with more precision – just what every parent has been waiting for.
From there, Baby is pretty much just honing and sharpening their visual and perceptual abilities, until some time, usually between their first or second birthday, when they have vision that can measure up to pretty much any adult’s.