Each of the five senses is a doorway to your baby’s mind. Your newborn baby can hear your voice, feel your touch, smell your scent, and taste anything you put in his mouth. While baby’s vision may be one of the least developed senses at birth, visual input during the early months may have the most profound effect on baby’s developing nervous system. What exactly does this mean? Why is visual stimulation so important for a baby? How can you as a parent or caregiver best stimulate your newborn’s visual senses?
How a newborn’s eyes detect light.
At birth, a baby’s retina is not fully developed. The retina is the back layer of the eye that detects light. An adult retina can distinguish many different shades of light and color, but a newborn retina can only detect large contrasts between light and dark, or black and white. So while an adult can appreciate various shades of pastel colors on the wall of baby’s nursery, a newborn may only see them as one shade all blurred together. Why is this important?
How visual stimulation makes baby’s brain develop.
At birth, the nerve cells in baby’s brain are disorganized and not well connected. While baby grows, the brain receives input from all five senses. This input causes nerve cells to multiply and form a multitude of connections with other nerve cells. This is why visual stimulation is so crucial. For example, if a baby is kept blindfolded the visual center in his brain would never develop, the optic nerve would shrivel up, and baby would never develop vision. On the other hand, if you provide continuous visual input into baby’s eyes, the retina thrives, the optic nerve grows, and the visual part of baby’s brain thrives and develops by leaps and bounds.
The best visual stimulation for baby’s eyes.
The best way you as a parent can stimulate baby’s vision is using black and white stripes or light and dark contrasting colors. So what about those nice soft pastels that used to be so popular in baby toys and nurseries? While these may look pretty to you, they do nothing visually for your baby. Research has proven that black and white contrasts register powerfully on baby’s retina and send the strongest visual signals to baby’s brain. Stronger signals mean more brain growth and faster visual development. Surround a baby with soft pastel colors, and you might as well be blindfolding him. Surround your baby with black and white or light and dark pictures, and watch your baby’s eyes light up.
Visual play for you and your newborn baby.
Here are some fun and creative ways you can stimulate your newborn’s vision:
- Surround your baby’s bed with stripes – buy sheets, blankets, crib bumpers, pillowcases and wallpaper that have dark and light stripes.
- Surround baby’s play area with stripes – babies have what I like to call the “quiet alert state.” Baby is awake, eyes are open, and baby stares intently at whatever grabs her attention. This is the perfect time to place a black and white striped book, picture, or toy about 8 to 12 inches from baby’s face. Watch your baby fix on this and stare almost glued to it.
- Black and white or light and dark contrasting toys – mobiles, rattles, the first teddy bear, and other favorite toys will grab your baby’s attention better if they’re the right colors. Resist the pretty pale blue and green rattle and go for the black, white and red one!
- The right distance – your newborn can see clearly about 8 to 12 inches away. Whenever you interact with baby, whether it’s with a toy, your hand, or your face, try to stay within 12 inches.
- Great expectations – don’t expect your newborn baby to stare wide-eyed at you for hours on end. Babies spend most of their first weeks eating and sleeping. Take advantage of the quiet alert times and don’t waste them. Baby will love to fixate on your face, and will begin to focus on your eyes in the early weeks. After a month baby will even begin to follow you with her eyes as you slowly move from side to side.
- Dress the part – for those who want to take visual stimulation seriously, try to wear striped shirts as often as you can. Your baby’s eyes will thank you.