Sight is the last sense to develop in the fetus.
Sight is the last sense to develop in the fetus. We know that towards the seventh month of pregnancy, an unborn baby can detect shadows and light variations (e.g.: if a bright light is directed onto the mother’s belly). Nevertheless, within the darkness of the womb, vision is the sense that is the least developed.
During the first year, however, a baby’s sight develops at an astonishing pace. “A newborn’s range of vision reaches about 20 centimetres—just enough to see you clearly when you nurse her. She’s very sensitive to light intensity, but still doesn’t see colours well or perceive depth, since her two eyes are not yet coordinated,” explains Dr. Cousineau.
By the end of the 1st month, a baby’s range of vision expands to 1 metre, and, as of the 2nd month, she greatly enjoys looking at people she sees around her. Towards the 6th month, she can see small objects like breadcrumbs and can grasp depth and distances. Her visual acuity will be similar to that of an adult around the age of 1.
Babies usually have their definitive eye colour towards 8 months old, but some slight variations are still possible.
What about colour? Before 3 months old, babies only distinguish brightness and tone (light or dark) and are attracted to brightly coloured toys with contrasting patterns. From 3 months on, infants can perceive several basic colours including red, green, blue, yellow and even some shades of gray. At around 4 months old, they can distinguish as many colours as an adult.
How to help
My baby is cross-eyed
This is normal. A baby’s eyes learn to follow movements independently. “However, a baby’s eyes should be coordinated by 6 months old. If they aren’t, talk to a doctor, as it’s possible your baby is using one eye more than the other,” advises Dr. Cousineau.
Look your baby in the eyes to encourage her to focus on your face and follow your movements. A good time to do this is when you’re feeding your baby, but make sure to regularly change the side you hold her to work both eyes equally. (From birth)
Stimulate her sense of observation by smiling, and making exaggerated, funny faces, which she will respond to by imitating you. You can also entertain her by having her look at her reflection in a mirror, or by placing a baby mobile with contrasting colours over her crib. (From 4 to 6 months old)
Play peek-a-boo games with her by placing your face, toys, etc. under a piece of fabric. She’ll soon look for the object herself when she can’t see it any more. (From 6 to 12 months old)
Give her her first wax crayons. With your help, she’ll be fascinated by her first strokes of colour. (From 10 months old)
With older children, play guessing games at the grocery store: “Find the yellow box with a monkey on it,” (or with a “C” on it, if she’s learning her letters). This game will encourage your child to pay attention to details and recognize letters and colours. (Around 4 years old)
Most vision problems in children can be corrected if they are discovered early enough. Here are some signs to look out for:
She doesn’t follow moving objects with her eyes.
She blinks often.
She is cross-eyed (after 6 months old).
She squints or closes one eye.
She cries if you cover one eye.
She’s very sensitive to light and her eyes water a lot.
She covers one eye to look or inclines her head to focus on something.
She bangs into everything and has a hard time orienting herself.
She often complains of headaches.
Transitions: using the senses to adapt
Giving your child familiar sensory references is useful in all situations where she needs to adapt to a new environment: a family separation, a move, a stay with grandparents, a new daycare, etc.
“No object can replace a human face. Your baby learns most when you’re in front of her. Even videos for babies, no matter how entertaining they are, can’t replace the interaction and exchange of information and pre-language skills that happen between an adult and child,” says Solène Bourque.
Daycares often call on the senses to reassure a child who is just joining the group, explains educational psychologist Solène Bourque. “When a child enters an unknown environment, the idea is to help her find some sensory references,” explains Bourque. “This could be through the food she is offered, the way she is rocked, or just by letting her look at a small family photo album. A parent can also leave a child with an item of clothing they have worn. “At one point, a mother even left her nightgown, and that did the trick!” she remembers. Another tactic, used by the CPE La Magie Rose in Greenfield Park, is to let parents record little messages for their children that we play back to the child when the need arises.
Babies explore their world, develop their brains and learn through their senses.
Your tender and loving interactions foster your baby’s sensory development.
Massages, music, the exploration of smells, taste and colours all help to stimulate a baby’s interest and feed her curiosity.