Even though vision is not as developed as an adult’s this does not mean that babies cannot see colours, patterns, shapes, and objects at birth. Even so, it takes several years to achieve full adult vision. This is why visual activities are important from birth.
At birth the amount of light collected is about 350 times less than that collected by the normal adult eye, so colour vision is limited. However, studies show that babies can see colours and different shades, providing there is enough contrast in hue and brightness.
Sensitivity to black and white is about one tenth that of the adult eye. The outline of the parent’s face, the dark shape of the pupil or nipple, and bold black and white patterns present the highest possible contrast to the eye.
By two months of age, cone (colour) cells migrate toward the centre of the retina, grow larger, and become more densely packed. This allows the baby to see colours and the outlines of shapes ten times better than at birth. Even though the brain and eye areas responsible for vision are still immature, the ability to distinguish between one colour and another develops rapidly.
Baby becomes receptive to rich, bright, highly saturated colours such as yellows and reds. These colours have a long wavelength at the higher end of the visual spectrum. Recognition of the colour green follows shortly after, although sensitivity to the colour blue may take a little longer.
By three months of age, the eye has made significant progress, and the baby can now see all colours more clearly, including blue. Development proceeds rapidly so that by six months of age, the baby has about 20/50 adult vision. The baby can distinguish more easily between pastel colours and similar colour shades such as yellow and orange.
By eight months of age, baby can see all the subtle shades that make the world so rich and interesting.
By the baby’s first birthday, with continued visual stimulation from birth, eye development makes rapid progress. However, it will take another four years or more before visual acuity reaches normal adult levels.