The babies’ vision is limited at birth.
They can’t see further than about 30 cm (12 inches) away.
Neither can they see any colour – only black and white and very little contrast.
Thus, their eyes are focused on what they can actually see, which is light!
Babies’ vision undergoes intense development during the first 12 months of their life.
And light plays a crucial role in this process. Particularly when it comes to learning colour, contrast, and three-dimensional perception.
The truth is – it is quite common to see a baby staring into the light in an almost trans-like state. Yet, it can be quite concerning for new parents.
So, allow me to shed some light on this crucial matter.
Is It OK For Babies To Stare At Light?
Young babies seem to be fascinated by the bright light.
But, before you let your little one stare at it for hours, you should be aware that some light sources can be harmful to their developing eyesight. The classic example is sunlight, specifically UVA and UVB rays. But that’s not the only source of harmful radiation.
Also, violet-blue radiation found in fluorescent light, halogen bulbs, and digital screens can potentially be damaging. As babies’ eyes have minimal pigmentation, and their crystalline lenses are still transparent – their eyes are very receptive to light. Letting in roughly 40% more light than adults. Thus, parents should be cautious about exposing their babies to any of the harmful sources of light.
1. Eyesight Development
Newborn babies are going through an incredible transformation at an astounding pace. The first years of your little one’s life are the most crucial for their healthy development. That includes their rapidly growing brain, immune system, and their eyesight.
To ensure your baby is developing appropriately, here is a list of a few key milestones related to their vision.
Vision Development Milestone
6-7 months of pregnancy
Baby reacts to light by turning away from the light source
Vision at a short distance (30 cm), only black or white), poor eye coordination and cross-eyes are common
Colour and contrast vision are well developed, shifting the gaze from one object to another without turning the head
3-dimensional vision is good, starts following moving objects, the eyes start working together allowing the baby to see with more clarity
Fascination with light starts decreasing
Focusing becomes well established along with hand-eye coordination
Field of vision and ocular motor controlare complete
Obviously, this timeline is indicative only, so don’t worry if your little one is not “on target”. After all, every baby develops at its own pace, and the “normal” development window is quite broad and flexible.
How your baby’s vision and sight develops
2. Can My Baby Damage Vision By Staring At Light?
The short answer to this question is: I can be. It depends on the light spectrum and the source.
Your baby’s eyesight can be damaged if they are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays and blue-violet light. Which is any high-energy radiation of a short wavelength between 380 and 500 nm.
UV rays are non-visible to the naked eye. Their wavelengths are shorter than visible blue light and contain much more energy. UV radiation comes in three types, depending on its frequency: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
Overexposure to both UV and blue-violet light can harm your baby and your eye health.
Although blue-violet light carries less energy than the UV spectrum, it is almost entirely unfiltered, so it can penetrate the cornea and reach the lens and retina. The result is that the back of the eye may be harmed.
UV, however, is almost entirely absorbed by the front part of the eye, causing damage to the ocular surface.
Furthermore, you should be aware that the baby’s crystalline lens is much more transparent at short wavelengths than the adult eye. This fact causes the increased transition of potentially harmful ultraviolet light by 40% compared to an adult!
Also, an infant’s eyesight is extremely sensitive to glare and light. That’s because the pigmentation of their eye tissue is still ongoing, making their eyes permeable to ultraviolet and blue light. Therefore, a very young baby can collect more light than an adult eye. It is estimated that this retinal illumination can be even 3 times higher!
This means that whilst UV and blue light pose potential damage to the eyes – babies are at much greater risk than adults!
3. Which Light Sources Are Potentially Dangerous For My Baby’s Eyes?
3.1 Artificial Light
Some commercially available bulbs emit blue light within a visible, short-wavelength range. Which are rays between 400-500 nm. This type of radiation is found in white and cool fluorescent bulbs, Tungsten-Halogen, and old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. They can cause damage to the baby’s developing eyesight, and baby exposure to this type of light should be limited.
Luckily, there are alternatives available on the market that are safer and more energy-efficient too!
LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are the best option here. These types of lights have very little or no UV radiation.
Therefore, LEDs can be safely used. And there is no limit to the distance or exposure time for young babies.
3.2 Screens And Digital Devices
The modern world is full of new light sources, such as digital screens, emitting various spectral compositions of light. As a result, we are exposed to significantly more blue light than ever before.
But how much blue light does each device produce?
To put things into perspective, 30 min spent outdoors in the overcast weather exposes eyes to 30 times more blue light than 1 hour inside in front of the digital screen.
Right. This may not seem like a great deal of exposure to this harmful light. But if you add up all the light sources in your home, then every electronic device you have will make a difference.
Blue light from electronic devices is known to be dangerous.
Hence, many phones and tablets are now fitted with blue light filters or eye comfort shields to reduce the irritation and tiredness caused by blue light.
Furthermore, we (and our children) spend more and more time looking at things close up, such as digital screens, and much less time outdoors.
Because of that, many school-age children are affected by myopia (near-sightedness). This means difficulty seeing objects at a distance and the necessity to wear glasses to improve vision.
This condition has seen a rapid increase of 50% in the past two generations. And it is closely tied with the rising accessibility of electronic devices…
I already discussed that screen time can be potentially harmful to young babies for a variety of reasons (and light is one of the causes) in my post: Can My Baby Watch TV?
The conclusion is that babies younger than 24 months shouldn’t look at screens to keep their eyes safe.
3.3 The sunlight
We are all aware that sunlight emits UV radiation, which is harmful to both the skin and the eyes.
So, without being funny.
If you plan to take your little one on a holiday where the sun will be intense, you should perhaps invest in good eye protection for your tot. Such as goggles with high-quality polarized glasses with an anti-reflective coating.
Naturally, I am not expecting your baby to take a sunbath.
I am sure you know it can be dangerous, let alone staring directly at the sun. But don’t forget that staying close to highly reflective surfaces like water, snow, or glass can reflect quite a bit of UV light. Therefore, make sure your baby is not exposed to reflected rays as well.
4. Final Few Lines
We are surrounded by a myriad of digital screens, light-emitting diodes, xenon lights, and energy-saving bulbs. All designed to make our lives easier and more comfortable.
If we add the sunlight to this mix – the fact is – we are exposed to A LOT of blue and UV light that can be harmful to the eyes. Especially for the most sensitive and vulnerable groups like babies and young children.
Therefore, it is recommended that babies never be exposed to digital screens before they turn two.
We should protect their eyes from the sun by wearing high-quality eye goggles, protecting against UVA and UVB rays.
And, before you buy new lighting for your home, always check if the photobiological safety standards are met in terms of levels of blue light emission. Generally, any halogen or fluorescent bulbs are a no-go, and babies should not be exposed to this type of light.