When Do Babies Start Seeing Colors? Turns Out It Isn't So Black And White

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When Can Babies See Color?
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

When you look into your sweet newborn’s beautiful eyes, you might be wondering what it is they see when they look at you. And, more specifically, if they’re seeing a black-and-white Lucille Ball version of life. So, when can babies see color? Well, you might be surprised to learn just how quickly infants transition into seeing their surroundings in true hues. According to Bausch and Lomb, babies can see the difference between light and dark even in the womb. So, when they are born, they notice shapes just by following where light and dark meet. Fancy, right?

After birth, it takes some time for babies to learn how to use their eyes — seeing things with both eyes isn’t totally natural; it takes practice. You can encourage it by giving your newborn plenty of things to look at, especially in primary colors. Whether it’s a busy wallpaper in the nursery, bright toys, or even the TV, putting something in front of your newborn’s face will help them learn to see shapes and primary colors.

Granted, baby still sees things differently than you do at first. However, considering how new to this whole out-of-the-womb thing they are, it’s pretty impressive how they progress from seeing nothing but fuzzy images to a finely detailed kaleidoscope of color. Curious just how fast it happens? Let’s take a look at some of the infant vision development milestones you can, ahem, keep an eye out for.

When can babies see clearly?

Before we dive into the world of color, how about clarity? When do babies have enough visual acuity to make out the things (read: you, Mama!) around them? As you probably suspected, babies are still getting the hang of vision when they’re born — after all, their eyes and visual system aren’t fully developed yet.

In those first few months, their primary focus is on whatever is 8 to 10 inches from their face. By the end of three months, though, their eyes are starting to work together. They can now focus on shapes and people close by, and even spot familiar faces in the distance.

How far can babies see at 3 months?

At 3 months old, babies can, in fact, see things beyond just light and dark. It’s not a lot, though. Newborns can only focus up to 8 to 12 inches from their face, so you want to lean in when you’re trying to talk to them or get them to smile. Anything else is impossible for them.

When can babies see color?

Although the notion that babies can’t see color is commonly perpetuated, it’s actually thought that newborns can see color. Experts aren’t sure how much, but it’s thought that babies begin to notice different hues by around two to three months old. “It’s is often thought that babies see in black and white. When infants are born, their visual acuity is not fully developed. However, even newborns see and distinguish among colors such as red, blue, green, and yellow,” explains Smart Baby’s Dr. Tricia Skoler for Psychology Today.

What colors do babies see first?

Again, experts aren’t entirely sure. What they do know is that children, even in infancy, seem to have color preferences. Elaborated Skoler, “Primary colors appeal to children. Chromatic primary colors — red, green, yellow, and blue — are especially appealing to young children. When infants are presented with the full chromatic spectrum, they spend more time looking at red and blue than yellow and green.” Generally speaking, soft pastel colors are harder for baby to see and, therefore, appreciate.

When is a baby’s color vision considered good?

By the time your little one hits around five months old, their eye control and movements are improving practically every day. It’s around this time they start to develop a three-dimensional view of the world, giving them a more in-depth perception. And it’s also at this important developmental juncture that baby is believed to have good color vision.

How do you tell if a baby is color blind?

Because baby’s vision is still developing when they’re first born, vision problems or irregularities are best left to their pediatrician or ophthalmologist to diagnose. Honestly, you probably won’t know if your little one is color blind until they have the ability to express to you what it is they’re seeing. As for other issues, there are a few potential red flags you can watch for:

  • Lack of focus past four months. In the beginning, all babies have trouble focusing on one thing, even (especially) if it’s right in front of their faces. But if your little one still appears to be looking in different directions or right through you after hitting the four-month mark, check in with their doctor.
  • No “red-eye.” It goes without saying you’re going to be taking one zillion pictures of your sweet angel, right? And while no one likes a flash in their face, if yours happens to go off, check for red-eye in your baby’s snapshots. Why? It shows that their eyes are refracting light correctly.
  • Other eye irregularities. You look (read: stare adoringly) at your baby every day, so you’ll be the first to notice if something doesn’t look quite right. Examples might include eyes that constantly water or seem to bulge.

Of course, it always merits mentioning that children may reach developmental milestones at different paces. If you’re ever concerned about your child’s progress, schedule an appointment to discuss it with their doctor.

What are other signs of possible eye and vision problems?

First things first, Mama: Eye and vision problems in the early months of a baby’s life are rare. So, exhale. Still, they are possible. Here are a few potential red flags to keep your eye out for:

  • Excessive tearing or baby watery eye
  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Red or crusty eyelids
  • Constant eye turning

If you notice any of these issues, you should schedule an appointment with your baby’s pediatrician. They’ll very likely refer your child to a doctor of optometry who can help pinpoint what the problem is (if there is a problem).

How can you help with a baby’s visual development?

There are myriad ways parents can contribute to the healthy development of their little one’s vision. Some examples include using a nightlight in baby’s room, holding toys within baby’s focus zone (around eight to 12 inches), encouraging your baby to explore on the floor, and more.

Baby Vision Development By Age

Birth to 4 Months

  • At this stage of life, newborns only see black, white, and gray. They can focus up to a foot away from their face, so you definitely need to get close to them.
  • In the first two months, you’ll also notice that your baby’s eyes are wandering, which is normal. This is a symptom of them learning to use their eyes together to see things.

5 to 8 Months

  • Per the American Optometric Association, babies at this stage of life are believably able to see colors other than white, black, gray, and red.
  • They may notice when someone is next to them and have some depth perception.
  • It’s also around this time that they can coordinate their hand and body movements with what they’re seeing, especially since they are likely starting to crawl at this point.
  • Also according to the AOA? While you might be proud of your early walker who didn’t crawl around very much, the crawling stage hones your newborn’s vision, which means that early walkers might not see as well as a crawler.

9 to 12 Months

  • By this age, your baby’s vision is pretty well-developed. They can see colors and have depth perception, which means they can also grasp things and hold onto them. You’ll see this trick when they reach out to something to help them pull themselves up to a standing position on their own.
  • At this stage of development, a baby can throw things, know where they are throwing them, and realize how far they need to go (even if they rarely make it).
  • Remember, while it might be tempting to encourage them to walk while standing, getting excited about crawling will help with their vision.

1 to 2 years

  • At this point, babies can point to objects that they can see.
  • This is an excellent time to introduce coloring, as it helps with hand-eye coordination and vision.

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