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Newborn Baby Eye Health

When thinking of eye health, many typically envision a first grader picking out their first pair of glasses or aging adults realizing the words on pages look blurrier than they used to.

The truth is, in the same way that optometry can be falsely looked over as just prescribing lenses, eye health in all different stages of life is often forgotten about too. Eyes are developed in the womb, so therefore eye health is relevant from the very moment a human enters this earth.

How is vision developed in babies?

Though many developmental milestones in life are tracked by birth date, visual timelines are actually tracked by due date. This is because it allows for a more accurate depiction of babies’ development rates.

Babies are actually born with eyes that are extremely sensitive to light and only able to see in black and white for the first few months. They can really only see close-up items and their pupils are rather small. Pupils will widen within a few weeks, and this is when babies begin to gain attraction towards large shapes, patterns, and start to recognize light vs. dark. It takes babies about five months to be able to see in 3D and, to give an example, recognize you if you were standing on the other side of the room. This is all because connections between the brain and the retina are still forming.

Babies are oftentimes born with an eye color that they will not have for the rest of their lives. Their real eye color will develop fully after roughly nine months, though it can sometimes take longer. This is due to wavering amounts of melanin, which is also still developing in babies. Also, babies may appear to look “cross-eyed” for roughly the first two months until their visual coordination gets better, and by this time they can follow a moving object with their eyes.

What should be watched out for?

An unusual sign in a newborn baby’s eyes may be the release of mucus or discharge. This can sometimes mean they were born with blocked tear ducts, and it should be evaluated with a physician to avoid an infection. When this happens, the mucus or discharge can be cleaned gently with a cloth or cotton ball and a little bit of warm water.

Some more extreme examples are leukoria and ophthalmia neonatorum. Leukoria is identified with a white-looking pupil that could signify a cataract. If this is the case, it is recommended to remove that cataract to prevent later vision problems in life. In a more extreme case, it may also be a rare form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma. Ophthalmia neonatorum is essentially an infection that a newborn can have if a mother carrying a sexually transmitted disease delivers her baby vaginally. Today, Erythromycin ointment is used to treat that.

When noticing these unusual signs, as well as even just frequent squinting or trouble focusing, it’s always best to consult with a professional. Eye health can oftentimes be an overlooked priority, but it’s essential to be conscious of it when caring for our most vulnerable.