What Does Baby See? Newborn Vision Through the First Year

Last Updated: January 21, 2024
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

This article may contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase through these links, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Learn more about affiliate links.

Every parent wants the best for their child.  It isn’t a stretch to assume you will wonder or already are wondering “what does baby see” right out of the womb? What does baby see after a few weeks..or a few months?

It’s actually super fascinating and will help you understand your baby’s needs and development better if you know what’s considered normal.

There is nothing so heartwarming as getting a newborn to react to your face. Even if the reaction is to cry, hah!

So let’s dive in and learn all about newborn vision so you know exactly what baby sees and how their vision develops in the first year.

Follow @mommy.labornurse on Instagram to join our community of over 640k for education, tips, and solidarity on all things pregnancy, birth, and postpartum!

When do babies start seeing and hearing?

Your baby CAN see and hear from birth, barring physical deficiencies. Technically sooner. Those eyes have been working since around the start of the second trimester!

Long story short, she’s already seen your guts better than you have (HOPEFULLY LOL). Good thing babies don’t remember that little bit of trauma!

That said, she doesn’t have CONTROL over what she sees yet, or the ability to fully process the information.

It’s all a big blur, most likely with a wandering depth of field where #allthethings come randomly into and out of focus.

Related Reading: Baby Screaming from Gas Pain?

Newborn vision: how well can newborn babies see?

Let’s dial into that a little. Everyone says babies can’t see until a few months after birth, don’t they? Getting right up in your little one’s face prompts a reaction much stronger than waving to her from across the room.

There will always be some question as to what babies REALLY see. I mean, you can’t really ask them to read the smallest line on the panel, right? We can test and retest, examine visual cues about how baby reacts to stimuli. And we’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Regardless, we’re still the blind trying to test the vision of the blind. And mute.

Despite this dark region in our ability to study, it has long been believed that infants can not see very much. Some will ask “how far can my baby see” while others focus more on the size of objects.

According to studies published by the OWFC of Australia, the latter is a question of how well and how far out a baby can FOCUS. They can “SEE” forever. They just can’t focus on it.

Babies are born with all the parts, barring physical deficiencies. Technically they HAVE THE PARTS to focus on whatever they want, provided they can get all the pieces to agree on what to do.

The fact is, mama, they don’t know HOW to focus, and the muscles and control necessary to do so will take some time to work out.

How your baby sees the world

If you aren’t familiar with mechanics of it all, your eye works like a camera lens (or maybe it’s the other way around!), taking light info from outside and using your cornea and the crystalline lens to focus it down into a single sharp point on your optical nerve. The more tightly the light is focused, the clearer the image the eye sees.

It’s this focusing superpower that babies lack. Or rather the control of it. If you’ve ever rolled the focus back and forth on a camera or a telescope, trying in vain to find just the right clarity, that’s what your little one’s world looks like.

They may be stretching those muscles to bring the world into focus, but they don’t have control to do it on command. Your baby could be counting those nose hairs you might have trimmed if you were allowed twelve seconds of alone time in the potty. They could also be focused on that tiny little spider dangling from the ceiling above your head right now. Watch out, mama!

But they won’t be doing any of this INTENTIONALLY until 2 months or so.

Related Reading: Newborn Check-up Schedule Months 0 – 4

When does newborn vision get clearer?

Babies will begin to get a handle on this ability to focus around 2 months of age.

At that point, though, there’s another piece still missing.

What piece? Well, they don’t have a brain yet!

OK, they have a brain, but the components in the brain responsible for processing this visual information aren’t quite developed by 2 months.

Visual acuity is the ability of the brain to translate all that crap from the optic nerve. Baby’s visual acuity won’t really settle to a solid 100% until 8 months or so.

That’s when the brain (and a component of the optic nerve, called the fovea) will be mature enough to hammer out those little details.

Newborn vision development timeline

It’s important to become familiar with and know the milestones that signal you’re baby’s developing vision. This way you can know how to help track and challenge your little one’s progress.

The best source of information on this one is definitely going to be your doctor. Big surprise there.

  • We don’t test your little blueberry’s eyesight as part of our infant screening or exams while you’re in the hospital
  • Your doctor should check baby’s eyes during every well-check visit during the first year
  • They’ll look at how both eyes focus, whether both eyes remain straight, and whether or not there’s a chance of internal eye disease

According to the American Optometric Association, it’s recommended that you see an optometrist anywhere between 6 and 12 months for the bundle’s first comprehensive eye exam.

Understanding your baby’s developing vision

It takes only a few months for your baby’s vision to move from blurry to clear. She should be following faces that are up close really early. Following moving objects a little more easily will come by eight weeks or so.

She won’t quite master tracking moving objects until around three months.

Depth perception will come around five months, as will a more or less full spectrum of color recognition.

New call-to-action

Newborn vision: Birth to a few weeks old

Worried about the first and most important sign that your baby’s vision is or isn’t on track? Find out whether or not that little bundle follows faces with her eyes. That’s the major milestone from birth to four weeks of age.

Be sure to show a lot of love in your face and let her know you are her biggest fan. She’ll be saying mama in no time if you make sure she knows.

How far can babies see at 1 month

One of the biggest vision questions I hear from friends and family with new babies is what babies can see at 4 weeks. Baby’s vision will still be fuzzy through the first month, although she will definitely look at you and even your eyes if you are within 8-10 inches or so.

How far can babies see at 6 weeks

Six weeks will give your little one a little more time to get her muscles working and her fovea interpreting the colors a little better. This won’t necessarily give her much more distance. You will be able to recognize the clear hallmarks of focus when you’re nose to nose.

Well, nose to boob, anyway.

2 to 3 months old

Around two to three months you’ll definitely see a spurt of progress from the little munchkin. Her development is getting EXPONENTIAL at this point.

How far can babies see at 2 months

You can expect that the littles will be able to focus closer to about 2 feet around six weeks. This is the last real milestone before everything becomes more or less clear for her.

You can expect to get some serious recognition from the little one through this time. Still gotta get close up, mama, but I doubt you’ll find much reason not to. Unless it’s time for a change.

Colors are more apparent for the little squishy. She’s always been able to see the differences, but less contrast is necessary for her to pick out individual definition.

Newborn vision: 3 to 4 months

Your three- or four-month-old is literally turning the corner into normal vision. This is when you’ll start catching her staring dreamily out the window or tracking the dog, who used to just be a big slobbering blur.

She should see farther, be able to track objects with her eyes and use both lookers in unison. 

Because the fovea should be closing in on full function, babers might start showing some color preferences.

How far can babies see at 3 months and how far can babies see at 4 months won’t significantly vary. She’s already crossed the bridge into about 20/40 vision. That’s being able to see about halfway down the chart for your eye doctor, which is pretty close to good enough.

Your baby’s vision at 6 to 12 months old

This is the last stretch in your baby’s development. Most little monsters settle into 20/20  vision by six months or so, so your baby sees like you by then.

Keep in mind most people don’t have 20/20 by default. That’s the standard for “perfect” vision, but you probably won’t know for sure if mommy jr. needs glasses for a few years yet.

A lot of moms ask if I have a resource that tracks or documents baby vision development week by week. Honestly, we’re not able to measure that specifically. Even if we could, you can expect that a lot of these changes are so gradual as to be literally undetectable.

It would be great to have a guide that can take you week-by-week and month-by-month through your little one’s progress. The reality is that these generalizations are really all you need. Your baby’s changes in vision are subtle and gradual, making every week a bit different but the story largely the same.

Other questions regarding what baby can see

Knowing the timeline for how, when and what your baby can see is really important so you can support your little one throughout, mama.

That said, there’s always more to learn, so let’s press on!

When do babies see color?

The significant discussion regarding color is really more about seeing the contrast. A baby has trouble sorting through colors that are similar in contrast until around 9 weeks of age.

Because of this shortcoming, professionals sometimes recommend high contrast toys or visual stimulation for babies younger than 2 months or so.

Regardless, your little newbie is NOT blind to colors, even at day one. Get something is close enough for them to focus (depending on where they are on the visual acuity journey). They will definitely be able to determine differences as long as the colors vary by 5% in “gray levels”, which is how contrast is measured.

Related Reading: My Best Tips to Get Baby to Sleep

When do babies see red?

This is a place where we still have to scratch our heads a little, mama. You’ll hear mothers or grandmothers claim that your little one or theirs has a favorite color. This MUST be the first or only color they pick out.

Colors might not be as vivid for a little monster in their first few weeks (this skill lives in the fovea too). However, there are too many other variables.

The little one might like that color because of the brightness or the contrast, not the hue. There’s really no way to know at this point. Not until we get a babytalk translator.

When to worry about your baby’s vision?

You’ll know your little baby better than anyone else. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of facetime seeing eye to eye, at least until she’s fifteen or so.

  • Watch out for motion in the eyes that doesn’t happen on both sides
  • If her eyes aren’t aligned or move independent of each other, that might be a cause for concern
  • A little bit of crossing is normal for the first two months or so
  • Little’s eyes can jump around or wiggle for the first few months, but she should have full control over that after 3 months or so
  • If either of these (or both) are present, it’s definitely time to get her in to see the optometrist or at least discuss your concerns with the pediatrician

Stimulating your baby’s sight

A lot of sources say or at least imply that you can only stimulate your baby’s vision and help them practice by giving them black and white toys and visual stimulation.

It’s true that black and white will always present the absolute maximum contrast. That said, remember that you’re helping your little one’s eyes work in the real world and not a black and white movie version!

It’s good to give that little munchkin some soft toys with maximum contrast. I know they always engaged my littles from the very earliest days.

Black and white themed mobiles are also especially captivating.

Remember to help her practice with more subtle contrast too, so she’s getting a good balance of subtlety.

After about two months she’ll be seeing basically the same colors that we see as adults. And she’ll really get there on her own anyway, without any help from us!

Your child’s first eye exam

A lot of doctors recommend you get the first eye exam scheduled between 6 and 12 months. But then again your pediatrician may say it’s okay to hold off if there are no indications of a significant issue in play.

A colleague of mine actually waited until her littles were two years old since that’s more around the time when babies start communicating in ways we can understand (and plenty of ways we don’t!).

We may never know the specifics of newborn vision

If you still think you have more to learn about the topic of what your little one sees in those first few years, you might be disappointed.

The reality is that the answer to this question will go unanswered forever.

At least or unless we get much more sophisticated in our abilities to read and interpret baby’s unsaid signals or biological data.

The important thing is that you can answer “what does baby see” for yourself in a way that helps you feel GOOD about her progress and PREPARED to supplement her visual education!

Happy visual stimulating, mama!

New call-to-action
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

Are you ready to have an even better birth?

Everything in your hospital’s childbirth class – plus so. much. more. Get the knowledge and tools necessary for a positive birth experience – no matter how you deliver!

Natural Birth Class

Eliminate the what-ifs and feel strong and ready for your unmedicated birth.

Start here if birthing without an epidural is your goal!

Epidural Birth Class

Let go of fear and feel fully prepared for (and unafraid of!) your epidural birth.

Start here if you know you want that epidural – or you’re not sure what your birth goals are!

C-Section Birth Class

Release anxiety and gain a sense of control for your C-section birth.

Start here if you have a planned C-section on the horizon. You deserve birth education too!