Your Infant's Visual Development
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Your Infant's Visual Development
Vision Problems of Premature Babies
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Infants are born with an underdeveloped visual system. Throughout the first year of life, your child's vision will grow and develop with him. Before your child is born, see your health-care practitioner regularly for prenatal visits and eat a nutritionally balanced diet for your child's eyes to properly develop.Your baby's eyes will be checked at birth and during well-baby visits throughout the first year. If your baby is premature, make sure his eyes were thoroughly checked at the hospital or birthing center before you brought him home. If not, make an appointment to see your eyecare practitioner.

The First Three Months 

Babies usually see movement befo re anything else, as their vision is still evol ving. Full-term babies should be ab le to see their mother's facial expression within a week of birth.Color vision is not yet fully developed at this time. Depth perception will also mature during the first year of life, as long as both of the child's eyes are working as a team.Eye muscle coordination in a newborn, as well as a small child, is also very immature. Babies often exhibit eyes turned in, turned out or not working as a team, called strabismus. This happens when the muscles of one side of the eye pull more than the muscles on the other side. If this problem doesn't resolve itself by the age of three or four months, consult your pediatrician or eye care practitioner.
Some babies need eyeglasses to correct early vision problems. Shown is Tiny To t by Fisher-Price.

First Signs of Eye and Vision Problems     

Sometimes you need to as k for  help earlier, such as if your child's eyes are grossly turned in or out, d on't mov e normally before age three months, if the e ye is crossed far into the nasal area, one eye moves while the other remains still or if one eye appears radically different from the other. Large-scale eye movement problems can be remedied with surgery if necessary. Seeing y our pediatrician early also helps.Catching strabismus early is i mportant, because a visual condition called amblyopia may result if strabismus is left untreated. If your child doesn't see well out of one eye due to strabismus, the eyes aren't working as a team to see. If your child's br ain doesn't rece ive visual imag es from that eye, eventually the brain will "shut off" that eye and vision could be  permanently lost. 

Vision Problems of Premature Babies    

Premature babies take a bit longer than their full-term counterparts to develop vision. A baby born before  40 weeks gestation is considered premature. A preemie born a month early usually develops normal vision, but children born before 35 weeks have a 30 percent greater chance of developing strabismus or amblyopia. The odds increase the earlier a child is born.Your infant should pay close attention to his mobile, or bright lights in the room. If your child cannot follow a toy passed in front of him from side to side by the age of three months, see your pediatrician. In some cases, children develop their visual reflex later than average. This is called visual maturation delay.

Your Child's First Eye Exam


If you're like most parents, you haven't had your infant to the eye doctor for an exam; after all, babies can't even read an eye chart. However, doctors have special tests for infants and toddlers that help them to diagnose conditions that are generally invisible to the naked eye. Plus, treating these conditions early decreases the chances that they will develop into more serious or even permanent problems."I don't think parents understand that it's not just for their children's visual development," All About Vision advisory board member Valerie Kattouf, OD, told, "but for their academic development, for their gross motor development, for their hand-eye coordination skills; it's so important that these things are treated early."The American Optometric Association recommends you schedule routine eye exams for your child at six months, at three years and before he or she enters school.Read about a no-cost eye assessment for your baby in the first year — regardless of your income. Or read more about children's eye exams.


Erratic Eye Movements

A vision condition called nystagmus can develop in infancy. Eyes that jump, dance, wiggle or oscillate back and forth is called nystagmus.This condition may be caused by poor vision, defects in the nerve pathway from the eye to the brain or albinism (light-sensitive retinas in albinos contain too little pigment for the eyes to function properly). Nystagmus may also be inherited. Babies with nystagmus may have normal vision or poor vision. If your child's nystagmus persists past age three months, consult your pediatrician.You're right if you notice that three to four months of age is an important time for vision development in your child. Take the opportunity during well-baby visits with your pediatrician to ensure that your child is visually on track.

From Four to Six Months

Between ages four and six months, your child should start to reach or bat at the mobile or toys you hold in front of him. Swatting a toy will happen by chance at first, then become deliberate as your child's vision, depth perception and understanding grows.From six to eight months, your child will roll over and may learn to crawl. Entice him visually with a toy to gain by rolling over or moving a few inches.From eight to 12 months, your child may be crawling and walking. Encourage crawling rather than early walking to help your child develop eye-hand coordination. These newly mobile infants will encounter bumps and bruises as they explore more of their world with developing vision.Closely supervise your crawler or early walker, especially while on the couch, near steps or on the bed. Remember that depth perception is still maturing, so tumbles on uneven surfaces are common. Children won't visually understand that the steps lead down, or the edge of the bed leads off into empty space.Many toys, from mobiles to stacking cups to blocks, can help your child develop vision and have fun at the same time. Talk to your pediatrician about age-appropriate developmental toys.

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