When Do Babies Make Eye Contact and How Can Parents Encourage?

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A baby looking at his father

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One of the best parts of bringing a baby into the world and in your home is you can stare into their eyes and feel an instant connection. But if your little one does not make eye contact, you’re likely to get disheartened and worried. A baby’s vision development is very important, in fact, it’s an important milestone which strengthens the bond between parents and babies. If you are parents to a newborn, you’re likely to wonder when will your little one make eye contact with you and what you do to encourage him.

When Do Babies Start Making Eye Contact?

We know you are eager to know when your little one will make en eye contact. So, here is the answer: Most babies, make their first direct eye contact during their first 6 to 8 weeks of age.

Why Is Eye Contact Important?

When a baby makes eye contact, parents are reassured that they are being recognised by their child. Moreover, it plays an important role in the emotional and intellectual development of babies, regardless to say the early bonding and attachment which gets even stronger once the babies start to make eye contact. Making eye contact also helps in gathering and analyzing information. When a baby sees his parents, he starts to relate to voices and persons, understand what a smile means and what it means to be loved.

Eye Gaze Development in Infants

A baby in his mother's arms

In infants, eye gaze development takes place as explained below:

  • Usually, a baby starts to take a substantial interest in their mother’s face within 7 hours after they step into this world. Moreover, they also tend to imitate the facial expressions made by their mother or caregiver.
  • During the first 6-8 weeks after their birth, a baby starts to intentionally direct his eyes at the mother or caregiver.
  • At around the age of 3 months, a baby is capable of following the movements of the mother or caregiver.
  • By the time they are 9 to 11 months of age, they master the ability to follow the actual eye gaze of an adult. At this point, they understand that what eyes are for i.e., to look and see. In some babies, this development might take a little longer so don’t panic if your baby is taking his time.

How Can Parents Help Their Baby Make Eye Contact?

Eye contact between a baby and his parents is a natural and cherishable moment. However, each baby develops at his own pace. Your little one may or may not make eye contact soon. But you, as a parent, can do your best to help him make eye contact.

  • Be gentle when you are trying to encourage your baby to make eye contact. You can’t have him make eye contact when he is in a bad mood or is hungry; he won’t be able to focus. Instead, try encouraging him when he is calm and content.
  • Another way to encourage him to make eye contact is by holding him at about 10-20 inches away from your face.
  • If your baby is gazing at you out of his own volition, then take advantage of such opportunities. In this case, you may try singing, making faces, talking, etc. to him. You might feel awkward at first, but all of these get stored in your baby’s mind, and it will constructively impact his development.
  • It is recommended to wait for the baby to look at his caregiver and then initiate an interaction. Ensure that you don’t look away before he does.
  • A mutual eye contact accompanied by touch or voice is more helpful to establish a harmonious bond between a parent and a baby.
  • Pointing at an object or toy and naming it will also be helpful which will also aid in their language development.
  • Don’t be disheartened if your baby is looking away from your face. It might be purely because he is tired of looking at you for the time being. Hence, understand his mood and allow him some space.
  • Your baby is still at the developing stage and will tend to have very short eye gaze. So don’t expect him to hold a long and intense gaze.

Activities That Can Help Infants Make Eye Contact

To help the baby develop his eye contact better, it’s recommended to take the baby to an optometrist. Between the age of 6 and 12 months, the baby has to through his first eye examination. This is to make sure that the baby has no problems with his eyesight to begin with, such as farsightedness, astigmatism, nearsightedness etc., If any problem is found (which is a rare case) then the baby has to keep visiting the doctor for regular eye checkups for a minimum age of 3.

To help the baby improve his eye moments and therein improving his eye contact, small activities can be undertaken by the parent.

  1. In the first 4 months, let the baby follow moving objects with his eyes and learn to reach out for things he finds attractive. This is to establish solid eye-hand coordination in the baby.
  1. Other activities that can help in making the baby develop his eye contact are through changing his crib’s position regularly and by changing the baby’s position in it. You could also hand an object above and outside the crib to let the baby follow it’s movement.
  1. You could also try keeping some toys within the reach of the baby and at about 8 to 12 inches of the baby’s focus.
  1. While feeding the baby, keep alternating the sides. Also, keep communicating with the baby whenever you are in the room. The sound can act as a catalyst for the baby’s attempt at eye contact.

Why Do Babies Avoid Eye Contact?

  1. It is important to remember that in their beginning months, babies can only focus up to 30 centimetres, which is ideally the distance at which they see a parent’s face when are being cradled or fed. They tend to not look anywhere other than this area.
  1. If the baby is overstimulated by a visual stimulus, then they tend to not have any eye contact and refuse to look altogether. At such cases, it is necessary to know how much eye contact is normal for babies. In such cases, let the baby calm down. Let him rest his eyes, by taking a nap and by not forcing it to have eye contact.
  1. The baby might have perhaps gazed too long at one spot and then get shy of gazing for too long. Such babies refuse to have eye contact for some time as well.
  1. Some babies tend to switch off for a particular period of time – it could be months or weeks where they refuse to have any eye contact. However, this is normal as babies tend to get excited and tired easily. They will gradually learn to maintain eye contact.
  1. Unwillingness to develop and maintain eye contact is usually an early sign for autism. If the baby pursues to not develop eye contact even after 6 months, then a doctor has to be consulted immediately.
  1. Other complications may also lead to refusal of maintaining eye contact. If the problem persists, visit a doctor at the earliest and take necessary steps.

It is often difficult to predict whether the baby really has any problem when it refuses to maintain eye contact. However, rather than panicking, it is recommended to deal with patience. Gradually you learn to understand your baby and develop a good relationship with them.

Also Read: When Does a Baby Starts Hearing?

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