New parents spend an awful lot of time gazing blissfully at the little being they brought into the world. And while it may not seem like it, your brand new baby is gazing straight back at you.
"Babies can see from birth, but their vision is fuzzy," says Karen Makin, optometric services manager at Bupa Optical. "Initially they will only be able to see short distances, so stay close and let them focus on your face."
A common misconception is that babies can't see colour when they are born. But Makin says that babies do see colour – they just can't distinguish between colours as well as older babies.
"Black and white patterns or bold colour patterns are good for stimulation," she says.
Makin notes that vision plays a really important role in a baby's development. "The way that your baby's vision develops will influence other development milestones. They use their eyes to learn about what is going on around them in their environment and this impacts their brain development," she explains.
Makin adds that milestones such as rolling, crawling and reaching are also linked to eyesight.
Naturally, parents will be very mindful of looking after their baby's eyes. In the early days, blocked tear ducts that cause a build up of mucus in the eye are fairly common. Conjunctivitis is also fairly common, particularly when a baby has a cold. Makin's advice is to keep eyes clean with saline solution or eye wipes which can be purchased from most chemists.
So when should you start having your baby's eyes checked? Makin says that in the early days your baby's health nurse or GP will be looking out for any abnormalities. "They will be looking for signs of a squint, or whether the baby's pupils respond to light," she says.
As far as eye testing goes, the Australian Optometry Association recommends that parents take their child to see an optometrist before they start school, or earlier if the parent has any concerns about their child's eyesight.
However, Makin says that a lot of optometrists say it is a good idea to take a baby to see an optometrist when they are six to 12 months old.
"We can't do a lot at this age, but we can check that they follow targets, focus in on objects. We can use instruments to check whether they have extensive amounts of long sightedness or short sightedness that might become a problem," Makin explains.
"We can check the basics – we can check that the child is developing as we would expect."
Taking your baby to see an optometrist early means that you can get a head start on any eyesight issues they may have. Makin says that some of the 'red flag' issues that come up at this stage are extensive amounts of long sightedness or short sightedness, one or both eyes turning in or out, or recurring eye infections.
More serious conditions can also be picked up early by taking your baby to an optometrist. "If we saw a baby had the appearance of a white pupil or a sensitivity to light we would be concerned, as that could indicate a serious problem," says Makin.
Makin's advice is to take your child to see an optometrist every few years. "As children get older they are placing different demands on their eyes. So just because their eyes are okay when they are one age doesn't mean they won't run into issues later," she says.
This is especially important for parents who have had problems with their own eyes, as lots of issues can be inherited.
However, Makin urges all parents to trust their instincts.
"If you suspect something is wrong, go and see an optometrist," she says. "You can't be too careful with your child's eyesight."