When, What, and How Far Can Newborns See?

At some point, after you’ve counted your newborn’s fingers and toes and stared lovingly into their eyes, you may wonder about your little one's visual development. When can newborns see? What do newborns see? Can newborns see you or even the larger world around them? Read on to find out more about newborn eyesight, gain insight into your baby’s visual development in the coming months, and get some answers to your frequently asked questions.

When Do Newborns Start to See?

Newborn babies can open their eyes and do, in fact, see when they are born. However, their eyesight is poor and they aren't able to focus very well, especially on anything beyond 12 inches away. But this will soon change for your baby, who will be able to see more and more clearly in the coming months. Read on to learn more about how your baby’s vision will develop over time.

So, what do newborns see? At first your baby may not be able to look at you or focus on your face, though they can perceive light and shape as well as detect movement. Before long your newborn’s eyes will meet your eyes; this is more likely to occur in low light than in bright light, since their eyes are still very sensitive after leaving the darkness of the womb. You may also notice that your newborn’s eyes drift or even cross. This is normal and will decrease around 2 or 3 months when their eye muscles become stronger.

Babies who are born prematurely may have slightly different patterns of development. Preemies can be born with closed eyelids or even fused eyelids depending on how premature they are. If your preemie’s eyes are closed or fused at birth, their eyes will open within a short amount of time.

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When Do Babies Start Looking at You?

Your face is your baby’s favorite thing to look at. So, when can babies see faces? Newborn babies in general are drawn to look at their parents’ faces, especially the eyes, when they’re being held.

Eventually, between 1 and 3 months of age, they’ll be able to take in more of your face, not just your eyes. And they’ll be more responsive to facial expressions that may involve your mouth, jaw, or cheeks.

Eyesight Development in Newborns and Older Babies: Distance Vision

Your baby’s distance vision develops gradually from birth onward. Learn more about the specific developments that will happen in the coming months.

How Far Can Newborns See?

At birth, your newborn’s visual range is limited. Your little one can focus on something that's only about 8 to 12 inches from them—such as your face when you're holding them, or the corner of their crib. Within this range, they will examine things quite closely. Anything beyond 12 inches appears as a blurry shape—just as it would for an adult who wears glasses for distance vision.

This limited range will gradually expand, and at about 3 months, your baby may start to notice you when you are halfway across the room—and maybe even smile at you! Your infant may also be able to gaze at an object lying just a few feet away, such as a toy.

By the time your baby is 4 months old, distance vision has progressed so much that they can stare out the window or look at something on the wall with interest, and by 7 months, their distance vision has improved greatly.

If your baby is around 4 months old, consider trying these stimulating play ideas.

Eyesight Development in Newborns and Older Babies: Pattern and Color

The ability to see pattern and color develops at roughly the same rate for your baby. However, it will be easier for your little one to detect patterns before they start being able to distinguish between similar color hues.

When Do Newborn Babies Recognize Patterns?

As development continues in your newborn baby's retinas—these are the light-sensitive tissues in the eyes—your little one will begin to see and recognize patterns, even by their first month. You may notice they will be drawn to simple black and white designs or those with strongly contrasting colors. At around 3 months old they may be able to perceive if there is more than one object in a picture.

The higher the contrast in a pattern, the more appealing it is to your baby, who may prefer to gaze at black-and-white patterns such as checks and stripes (at around 1 month) and bull’s-eyes and spirals (by 3 months old).

When Do Newborn Babies See Color?

Newborns, it turns out, see mostly in black and white, but it doesn't take long before babies are able to tell the difference between one color and another. At birth babies are sensitive to light (and don’t pick up on color differences), but by 2 weeks of age their pupils enlarge and they’re able to experience a wider range of dark and light shades of color.

So, how long do babies see only in black and white? At about 1 month, your little one can detect the brightness and intensity of colors, and over the next few months may start to see several basic colors, including red. Your baby's color vision is fully developed by about 4 months, when they'll be able to see lots of colors and even shades of colors.

Eyesight Development in Newborns and Older Babies: Focus and Tracking

At birth, your baby lacks the ability to focus on things and track moving objects. No need to worry—these skills are developed over time.

When Can Babies Focus on Objects?

Babies are born with peripheral vision, meaning they can see objects around them, at the sides of their visual field. But, being able to focus closely on a specific object is something that develops over time. They gradually can focus on a single point in the center of their visual field. By 1 month old they’ll be able to briefly focus on objects as far as three feet away.

By 2 or 3 months of age your baby’s ability to focus may be developing steadily. Your baby may be able to turn both eyes inward, known as convergence, to focus on something nearby such as their hands. Simultaneously they will learn to turn both eyes outward, known as divergence, to focus on objects in the distance.

When Do Babies Start Tracking Objects With Their Eyes?

Another part of your baby's visual development is tracking, or the ability to watch or follow a moving object with their eyes. Your baby will be able to track moving objects at around 3 or 4 months old. Here’s how it develops.

In the beginning your newborn will struggle to watch a rattle when you shake it in front of their face, but in two months’ time, they will have better coordination and focus in both eyes, which will work together to follow the rattle’s movement.

Soon enough your infant will be able to track even smaller objects, like a length of yarn—and have a faster reaction to them. You may even notice during this time that your baby will look at your eyes to find out what you’re looking at—this is referred to as shared attention.

When your baby is about 3 months old, they will likely be able to use their arms and hands to swat at things in front of them (missing more often than not). Practicing this hand-eye coordination is great fun for them and for you too!

Depth perception starts to develop at about 5 months, after your baby has had some practice following objects coming toward them or away from them and can put together a three-dimensional view of the world.

Over time, as their motor skills improve, so will their aim and tracking ability.

When Are Babies’ Eyes Fully Developed?

So, when do babies develop full vision? Eyesight matures rapidly in young babies, and you'll be able to observe lots of progress as the weeks and months go by. Development will continue throughout the toddler and preschool years. At age 3 to 5, a child with normal vision will be able to see as clearly as a typical adult, and by age 10, their visual system will be completely developed.

Among the early milestones you'll want to watch for are the following:

  • your baby can distinguish between colors like red, blue, and yellow with a strong preference for red

  • your baby likes complex patterns and shapes (try showing them popular children’s picture books)

  • your baby follows fast-moving objects with their eyes.

Your Baby’s Visual Development

Your baby’s eyesight progresses from the moment they’re born, maturing rapidly throughout the first four months of life. Here are some key milestones to anticipate:

  • As a newborn your baby will look into your eyes, especially during skin-to-skin contact and feedings

  • By 1 month old your baby will see your entire face

  • By 2 to 3 months old their ability to focus will improve

  • At 3 months old they will enjoy looking at black-and-white patterns

  • By 3 to 4 months old they will be able to track objects and track in which direction you’re looking

  • By 4 months old they will be able to distinguish different colors, even hues that are similar

  • After 4 months old they will be able to see very well into the distance, way past the 12 inches they saw at birth.

The Bottom Line

Your baby’s vision is just one of many areas of development your baby will experience. As the months go by, enjoy your baby's progress, and share the delight in their new abilities and achievements.

Learn more about typical growth and development for 4-month-old babies. If you have any questions or concerns about your baby’s eyesight, be sure to raise them with your baby's healthcare provider.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.