What Does a Newborn Baby See?

One of the many joys of a newborn baby is witnessing the development of the senses. A baby is born with the eye structures needed for vision, but must learn how to use them together to actually be able to "see." Although newborns can't see very well, they can see quite a bit.

A baby smiles and looks ahead to the future. A baby smiles and looks ahead to the future.
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How Newborns See Colors

Young babies can make out objects with high contrast, such as black-and-white patterns, checkerboards, and other contrasting color pairs. Be sure to give your baby several different things to look at that are colorful and highly contrasted.

In utero, your baby was in a dark environment, but since birth, she is able to differentiate between light and dark. She won't be able to see all colors for a while, but her color vision will improve quickly.

Nearsightedness in Newborns

Newborn infants are extremely nearsighted, meaning that far away objects are blurry. In fact, a newborn has little ability to focus beyond 8 or 12 inches away. This nearsightedness may explain why babies seem to gaze at nearby objects. Studies have shown that infants enjoy looking at faces, but they probably aren't able to see much facial detail. Your baby may appear to focus intently on your face, but he's probably studying your hairline or the outline of your face.

Although your baby can make out objects that are close to her, depth perception takes more time to develop. By around the third to fifth month, the eyes become capable of working together to form a three-dimensional view of the world.

Newborn Vision Milestones

An infant is not able to see fine details, but as he grows his eyesight will improve rapidly. You will notice vision milestones as his sense of sight increases and he begins to be aware of his surroundings. By the time he is six months of age, sight will probably be his most dominant sense. In six short months, some babies develop eyesight that is better than some adults.

During the early months, position your baby face about 6 to 10 inches away from yours. She will be able to see the outline of your face, and your face is probably her favorite thing to see. By two to three months of age, a baby will begin to notice facial features, such as the nose and mouth. By three to five months, most babies can differentiate between mother's face and a stranger's face. An infant's eyesight continues to develop and change over the first year of life.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bowman R. Assessing vision in a baby. Community Eye Health. 2016;29(93):16-17. PMID: 27601797

  2. Stjerna S, Sairanen V, Gröhn R, et al. Visual fixation in human newborns correlates with extensive white matter networks and predicts long-term neurocognitive development. J Neurosci. 2015;35(12):4824-4829. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5162-14.2015

  3. Brown AM, Lindsey DT. Infant color vision and color preferences: A tribute to Davida Teller. Vis Neurosci. 2013;30(5-6):243-250. doi: 10.1017/s0952523813000114

  4. Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth.org. Your Newborn's Hearing, Vision, and Other Senses.

  5. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus. Infant - newborn development.

  6. Dupierrix E, de Boisferon AH, Méary D, et al. Preference for human eyes in human infants.Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 2014;123:138-146. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2013.12.010

Additional Reading
  • The University Health Center of Virginia. Normal Newborn, Newborn Senses, 12 Feb 2004.

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.