How a child’s eyes develop and when they need their first eye exam
Updated: May 16
Childhood is a critical time for eye development. A baby’s vision will go through many changes through their first year of life and continues to get stronger each year. The visual system is one of the most complex systems in the body but, oddly enough, is one of the least developed at birth. Often, vision or other eye problems will go undetected by both children and parents. When it comes to treatment, early detection is crucial which is why it’s recommended to book a comprehensive eye exam by two years old.
However, if you have a family history of eye issues or any other concerns, your child can be seen as young as six months. It’s important to note that a brief screening by your pediatrician, family doctor or school is not a substitute for a comprehensive eye exam by a skilled optometrist. In this post, we’re going to look further into how your young child’s eye develops and the changes their vision goes through during these early years.
Vision actually starts developing during pregnancy (which is why it’s so important to avoid toxins during this time). When your baby is born their vision is not fully developed. At birth, babies can only see black, white, and shades of grey. Newborns are very sensitive to bright light and will be unable to focus on an object. By about a week old babies will start to see colours and may be able to see 8-10 inches away. Much of their vision is still blurry. Your baby should be able to see your facial expressions by this time and mom’s (or other caregiver’s) face will be their favourite thing to look at!
As babies get older their eyesight will improve. By the end of three months your baby can follow and track a moving object, is more interested in shapes, and can spot familiar faces from a distance. For the first few months you may notice that your baby’s eyes seem to wander to the sides or may appear crossed. This is normal and by about six months of age your baby’s eyes should be working together all the time. Again, six months of age is a good time to schedule your baby’s first eye appointment if you are having any concerns about their vision.
Once your baby begins to crawl and move they will get better at judging distances, grasping objects, and coordinating their body movements with their vision. Since infants at this age tend to become injury prone as they explore the world around them, it’s important to ensure that their vision is on track. Eye or vision problems can delay a baby’s development and early treatment is key to helping them grow and learn properly.
Children’s eyes and vision continue to develop well past their first year. It is recommended to schedule your child’s first eye exam by the age of two years old, if you haven’t already. Refractive errors, which cause blurry vision, are common in children and can be corrected with glasses. A child’s vision can change rapidly throughout their youth and keeping up with regular annual eye exams is the only way to ensure that their eyes are developing properly.