How vision develops in babies and toddlers

Key Points

  • Vision is an essential part of a baby’s healthy development
  • Ensuring your child meets visual milestones can help you track your baby’s development
  • Check-ups with your optometrist or eye doctor is key to ensuring the normal development of your baby’s vision and eye health 

In this article

Normal visual development in babies is crucial as it lays the foundation for various aspects of their overall development. From birth, babies are constantly receiving visual, auditory (sound) and sensory (touch) information and learning from it. Since 90% of what the brain processes is visual information,1 ensuring that your baby is meeting visual milestones is important for overall healthy development. 

How does vision develop in my baby?

All of the components and structures in a baby’s eyes are there from birth, and they are able to see, but vision is not clear like it is for adults.2 This is because not all the skills required to have good vision have developed yet: they will develop over the coming months and years.


Babies will be sensitive to bright lights when they’re born. This is likely due to underdevelopment of structures which affect how they perceive light. As the sensory tissue at the back of their eyes that receives visual information (the retina) matures, their light sensitivity will decrease, and their ability to see fine detail will improve.2

Why might vision not develop normally in my baby?

Sometimes, when there is an issue with eye health, babies may not be able to develop normal vision as the retina and brain don’t receive the right information. This is called amblyopia.3 Amblyopia, sometimes known as "lazy eye," is a vision disorder where vision is limited in one eye, which cannot be corrected by glasses or contact lenses. This condition typically occurs during early childhood and is often associated with other eye conditions such as the following.


  1. A high prescription in one or both eyes (especially if glasses are not worn or the incorrect power is worn)
  2. A turned eye which does not coordinate with the other (called strabismus)
  3. An eye condition or disease like cataract (cloudy window in the focusing lens of the eye) or ptosis (drooped eyelid) which dims or covers part of the visual information being transmitted to the back of the eye and brain.


These factors cause amblyopia to develop as normal visual stimulation to the eye does not occur, so the brain doesn’t properly learn to develop fine detail and clarity of vision.3

When should I take my baby to see an eye doctor?

Recommendations for childhood eye examination frequencies vary by country, and what is standard practice. Simple eye checks are typically undertaken at birth and in newborns, but after that it is up to you to watch for anything unusual and seek advice if anything concerns you.


  • After the newborn period, it is typically recommended that your child have an eye examination before age 3, to ensure the eyes are working together and each eye is seeing clearly
  • If all is good, then another eye examination before starting school is recommended, and every year throughout school since vision is so crucial to learning.

The critical period for the development of clear vision in each eye is before the age of 6, but the earlier problems are detected and treated, the better. Some problems need to be treated sooner, and some can still respond to treatment later. For example, amblyopia due to a very high prescription only (no turned eye or eye disease) can sometimes respond entirely to the full strength, correct prescription in glasses and improve in children aged 7 up to 17 years of age.

How can I tell my baby’s vision is developing normally?

Every baby develops at a different rate, so it's important to keep that in mind when looking to see if your baby’s development is on track as expected.


Typically, a pediatrician or child health professional will examine various health indicators for your baby when they are born, to ensure there are no obvious concerns. This often includes checking eye health for any serious concerns, but does not necessarily check their vision. 

What vision milestones should I look for in my baby?

The following gives an overview of typical visual milestones which you can watch for as your baby grows and develops.5

Milestones at 0-1 Month

  • Blinking when bright lights are shone
  • Looking at faces or objects when close (8-10 inches or 20-25 cm away)
  • Eye movements – but may be uncoordinated
  • May start to follow or track moving objects

Milestones at 1-2 Months

  • Able to see objects 10-12 inches or 25-30cm away clearly
  • Able to follow an object up to 90 degrees
  • Can start to form tears when crying
  • Stares at faces closely
  • Stares at black and white images

Milestones at 2-3 months

  • Able to follow faces, lights and objects
  • Will start to notice familiar faces or objects from 12 inches or 30cm away
  • Will stare at own hands

Milestones at 4-5 months

  • Will start to use hands to grasp or touch objects that are nearby
  • Able recognize familiar objects
  • May look at themselves in the mirror

Milestones at 5-7 months

  • Full color vision has developed – you may notice your baby’s color preference
  • Vision at longer distances now
  • May turn head to view objects

Milestones at 7-12 months

  • May look intently at smaller objects now
  • May look at objects and people across the room
  • Can watch and track fast-moving objects
  • Depth perception

What should I do if I think my baby has a vision problem?

Make an appointment to see your optometrist or eye doctor if you have any concerns about your baby’s vision or eye health. They will be able to check your baby’s eye movements, focussing power (prescription) and eye , is the best course of action, as your optometrist will be able to determine if there is a problem or not. Remember, every baby is unique and will develop at their own pace rates. The important thing is to be aware of any potential signs of vision problems, and to see an optometrist or eye doctor if you have any concerns.


Learn more about vision in our Babies and Toddlers Knowledge Centre where you can see age-specific content on topics such as vision correction (eye glasses and contact lenses), eye health, screen time and more.  

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