Believe it or not, when your baby is a newborn he can only focus on a distance of about 12 inches or so, which is the distance from your nipple to your face. It makes sense really, the person feeding the baby is likely to be the primary caregiver and, in old fashioned terms, this means that baby is born able to see mum’s face. Babies will look at faces very intently, especially focusing on the eyes and babies are most responsive to facial expressions – probably a good thing as we all tend to lean over babies pulling funny faces and making eyes.
At birth, baby will be very sensitive to light (hence all those screwed up faces, unless it’s being caused by something going on in the nappy department). As the retinas (the part of the eye that’s light sensitive) develop, baby begins to see patterns. This means that high contrast images (such as black and white pictures or simple coloured shapes) will attract his attention best.
As baby gets a little older, he will be able to focus briefly on objects a little further away (up to three feet away by the age of four weeks).
As baby’s focus becomes stronger he will start to track (follow) a moving object as visual coordination and depth perception improves. By three or four months of age, baby can usually recognise a person across a room and start to focus on objects through a window.
Colour vision is also developing at this time and by about four months baby will respond to a full range of colours.
Once you understand the way in which your baby’s sight develops it makes it easier to buy the types of toys that are most suitable for his age. Instead of the pastels so loved by many new mums, baby will respond better to bright colours with great contrast (think clash and you’ve got it right).
Toys and books should be bright and colourful to help to stimulate vision development in babies. Make sure that during the first few months mobiles are hung close enough for baby to see and track properly. Use board books with high contrast pictures and offer brightly coloured toys. The brighter the toys are, the more likely it is that baby will see it well enough to stimulate a bit of reaching with the hands – and then it’s on to one of the next steps in sight development – hand eye coordination.