Newborns are very nearsighted and can see only fuzzy shapes.

The Development of Color Vision in Infants

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

It takes a full year for the average infant -- typically born with 20/200 to 20/400 vision, according to -- to see as well as an adult. But relatively poor eyesight doesn't stop a newborn from seeing bright colors, faces and large shapes fairly soon after birth, explains the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Head Start

Babies can distinguish between light and dark while still in the womb, says Bausch + Lomb. This innate ability helps a newborn see shapes by tracking the lines where dark and light come together. Around 2 months, a baby is able to distinguish two shades of gray that differ by a mere .5 percent in brightness, according to the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco.


A baby's color vision typically lacks the clarity and sensitivity an adult enjoys because the nerves and receptors most sensitive to color are still immature. As an infant's nervous system develops, particularly in the fovea -- a tiny depression in the retina of the eye where visual perception is greatest -- color vision and sharpness gradually improves.

Colors Galore

Red is the first primary color a newborn sees once color vision develops. By 3 months, babies can see green, blue and then a full range of colors, notes Bausch + Lomb. Although a newborn can see primary colors early on, she may not be able to distinguish between more subtle pastel colors like soft pink and peach. As color vision continues to improve, an infant starts to follow colorful moving objects and is drawn to crib mobiles and toys with vibrant, geometric designs.

Color-Blind Infants

Some babies are born with color vision problems or color blindness. Color blindness is usually due to genetics, explains It's difficult for color-blind babies to see blue, green, red or a combination of these colors. Inherited color blindness occurs when one of three types of cone cells or color sensors -- typically located in the central part of the retina -- is missing or faulty. Color-blind babies may be able to accurately see some colors but not others. In extreme cases, a baby may only see black, white and gray. No treatment exists for color vision problems.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

Photo Credits

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