Visual Milestones

Taytum Woest - B.Optom (UJ)

Milestones are ways to monitor your baby’s progress. From conception until 14 months, the physical development of your baby takes first priority. 

The cerebellum – the part of the brain that is responsible for motor skills- will triple in size during your baby’s first year. During this time the brain is building connections between the brain, senses and muscles. Visual development forms part of the crucial physical development that happens in the first two years of your baby’s life.  Your baby isn’t born with perfect vision, just like they are not born with the ability to walk or talk. This is all learnt behaviour. Your baby needs to learn how to focus their eyes, how to move them accurately and use both eyes together. The brain also needs to learn what to do with the information it is getting from the eyes so that they can understand the environment around them and interact with it. 

When a baby is born, they have very limited vision. During the first month they will begin to look at light and objects that are 20-30 cm away from them – about the distance between a baby and the parent’s face while holding them. They will also begin to follow slow moving lights or objects that are 20-30 cm away from them. It is normal at this age that the two eyes don’t work together yet; your baby’s eyes might even appear to squint. This is normal; the brain has not yet learnt to use the two eyes together. 

During the second and third months they will begin to notice their hands, they will make eye contact and begin to follow moving lights or objects with both eyes working together. 

During the third and fourth months they will watch their hand movements. They will also start to reach for objects, grasp or hold objects and bring the objects to their mouths. Their eye movement also develops so they can look from person to person or object to object. 

By the fifth month their eyes will appear straight. Their eyes should not turn in or out, up or down constantly or occasionally. 

During the sixth and seventh month, they will purposefully reach for objects. They will also follow near objects (30 cm) and distance objects (1 m) with both eyes. 

During the 8th to 10th month, babies start to recognise faces. They will also look at smaller objects like cereal or raisins. 

From twelve months babies will start becoming interested in pictures. They will recognise pictures and point at pictures in a book. They will also start to recognise their own face in a mirror. 

From 18 to 24 months they can scribble with crayons and pencils. They can also point out their body parts when asked. 

It is important to note that not all babies are the same and they don’t all reach their developmental milestones at the same time. But it is crucial that visual problems are detected and addressed early to ensure that your baby’s eyes and vision can develop properly and that vision problems do not become a stumbling block for your baby to reach other developmental milestones. 

If you have noticed that your baby has not reached some of the milestones mentioned or you have any concerns about your baby’s visual development, do not hesitate to see your paediatrician or bring your baby for an eye exam.