The importance of eye contact with babies
Parents are often overconcerned with the actions of their babies. One minute, the baby is making eye contact, and the next, a new mother is researching eye contact in babies to ensure that their little one’s habits aren’t signs of them being unhappy, sad or suffering a medical issue.
If you’re worried about your baby’s eye contact, we’ll be covering the most common questions that parents have when they’re concerned about eye contact.
What Does It Mean When Your Baby Doesn’t Look at You?
Avoidance, when it’s for long periods of time, may be an indication of autism. Typically, a baby will make eye contact as young as six to eight weeks of age, but it can take six or more months for eye contact to really develop.
Remember that your baby is still trying to discover the world and take in all of the sights that you take for granted.
If your child is under three or four months of age and doesn’t make eye contact or look at you often, it’s likely that she’s still developing and there’s no real cause for concern. You may want to be concerned if, by the sixth month, no progress has been made.
When Do Babies Start Making Eye Contact?
Baby milestones are very exciting, but keep in mind that these milestones can be different from one baby to the next. A baby may start making eye contact briefly as young as six to eight weeks of age.
The eye contact is often:
- Your baby exploring
- Your baby still not recognizing you
- Your baby developing her eyesight
If your baby is a late bloomer, the eye contact can come twelve or more weeks after birth.
Premature Baby and Eye Contact
A premature baby will exhibit different actions than a baby that goes full-term. Every premature baby is different, and they’ll often:
- Make less eye contact than a full-term baby initially
- Not make eye contact for as long as other babies
There are conditions to be concerned about in a premature baby, primarily retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which is a condition that is seen often in these babies. The disease results in the abnormal growth of blood vessels in the retina and can cause blindness.
If this condition doesn’t exist, a preemie often starts looking at their caregiver around the age of 6 to 10 weeks, and their eyes may even widen at the sight of their caregiver.
Parents of preemies should consult with their physician if their baby doesn’t begin showing signs of normal eye contact patterns. The risk of ROP and blindness are too great and may require immediate medical attention.
Laser therapy or cryotherapy are the two main forms of therapy that can help correct ROP before it advances and has the potential to cause blindness. Early diagnosis can help drastically to stop progression and lower the risk of serious eye complications in your child.
Should Babies Make Eye Contact When Feeding?
Feeding time is happy time for a lot of babies. For moms, this is one of those long-lasting memories that will stay with them for a lifetime. Feeding is an intimate, special moment, but should your baby be making eye contact with you when feeding?
Yes. A newborn’s eyesight isn’t fully developed, and they can only really see 8 to15 inches away.
When you’re feeding your baby, your face is much closer to their face than normal, allowing your baby to make eye contact with greater ease. And it’s also a great time to promote social communication and interaction between the parent and the child.
- Engage in joint sharing where the baby refocuses their eyes to the direction that you’re focusing on
- Lock eyes with the baby
In fact, a lot of mothers that are concerned about their baby making eye contact will state that one of the only times eye contact occurs is when they’re feeding.
If a child is under three months of age, allow them to look around and learn the world around them.
Don’t worry: they’ll certainly start being more expressive soon. In just a few months, your baby’s eyesight will improve drastically, allowing you to start directing their attention to objects and witness their personality really coming to life.
How Much Eye Contact Is Normal for Babies?
Eye contact in babies is never really too much. Some babies love to “stare,” and they’ll maintain eye contact for long periods of time. Generally, your baby will make eye contact when they’re feeding and randomly throughout the day.
You shouldn’t be sitting down with a timer and worrying if little Susie only maintained eye contact for 10 minutes today when she made eye contact with you for 12 minutes yesterday.
Baby behavior is always different, and since they’re exploring and learning about the world around them, it’s a good thing if they’re not making eye contact with their caregiver night and day.
And when your baby reaches seven months old, you’re in for a treat because they’re vision has fully developed. What does fully developed vision mean?
It means that your baby will:
- Make fast eye movements
- Gain interest in complex shapes and patterns
- Begin tracking your movements
- Start pointing at objects that they see
If you think that your baby isn’t making enough eye contact and would like to find ways to help progress your baby’s vision, there are methods that you can use to promote this positive behavior.
How to Help Your Baby Make Eye Contact
Eye contact in babies is exciting, and it’s a natural process that gives parents a lot of joy. Parents can try and encourage their babies to make eye contact in various ways. But before we begin, just remember that a baby’s eye gaze is very short, so they won’t maintain focus for a long period of time.
Now, a few of the ways that you can help baby make eye contact are:
- Keep your baby 10 to 20 inches away from you during the initial months of their lives so that they can learn to focus and gaze at you.
- Never try and force eye contact because it’s going to stress out your baby and won’t get results. Remember that this is a natural process that needs to be encouraged but never forced.
- Interact with the baby when she’s making eye contact. Smile, sing, make gestures – do anything interactive within the child’s field of vision.
- Try and not look away when a baby does make eye contact.
- Promote attachment by maintaining a mutual gaze and adding in voice or touch.
When a baby does make eye contact, be sure to maintain it and make the process fun for the baby. If you encourage the right behavior, your baby will begin making eye contact more often and eventually reach the stage where their sight has developed fully (it only takes 7 to 9 months).
Poor Eye Contact Does Not Always Mean Autism
Autism is a major concern for a lot of parents because it’s a very real issue that impacts 1 in 54 babies in the United States alone. The good news is that poor eye contact isn’t a sure-fire sign that your baby has autism.
If your baby was a preemie, yes, there is greater concern that if the baby isn’t maintaining eye contact, there may be deeper issues relating to autism.
But babies develop at different rates, and there’s also a chance that your child’s development is slow or that they do have poor eyesight, even if it’s not linked to autism. If you do have concerns that your baby is autistic, it’s better to go to the doctor for a professional opinion.
Baby Not Making Eye Contact – When to See A Doctor?
Eye contact is an important milestone for babies. Typically, babies start making eye contact when they’re six to eight weeks old, but some will take a little longer.
- In the first few months, babies can only focus on things that are up-close (8-15″ away). Around one month old, they will start holding eye contact. If your baby is hungry, cranky or tired, she may not want to look at you or hold eye contact.
- At three months old, your baby should be able to focus on faces and follow moving objects.
- At four months, your little one should be able to see the complete range of colors.
- A baby’s vision is fully developed around seven months.
If your little one still isn’t making eye contact after eight weeks, talk to your doctor. She may just be a late bloomer, or it could be a sign of something else. It may autism, or it could be a medical condition that’s preventing your baby from making eye contact.
Eye contact in babies is a subtle yet important milestone that should not be overlooked. If you have concerns about your baby’s vision or if she’s still having trouble making eye contact after the first few months, talk to your pediatrician.