Eye Concerns in Newborn Babies

close up of a baby's eye

Newborn babies are able to follow a light with their eyes and turn toward lights. They are very near-sighted at first, and they can focus best on things that are within 25 cm (10 inches) of their faces. Their vision improves over the first three months. So don’t worry if your newborn baby can’t see the mobile hanging in his crib right away. In time, his ability to focus will improve and he will see as well as the rest of us.

There are a few things that you might be concerned about, with regard to your newborn baby’s eyes: uncoordinated eyes, crossed eyes, and teary eyes.

Uncoordinated eyes

Your newborn baby’s eye movements may not be well coordinated at first. His eyes may move independently of each other, and this is perfectly normal. It takes time for your newborn baby to learn to use his eyes and strengthen his eye muscles. The problem should resolve itself by the time your baby is three months old. If by this time your baby still has problems with his eye coordination, make sure to bring this to your doctor’s attention.

Crossed eyes

Sometimes the extra folds of skin in the inner corner of the eyes can make the eyes look crossed. As the baby grows, the folds will retract and the eyes will look more even. Some babies do have truly crossed eyes, which needs to be treated early. Ignoring crossed eyes can lead to a condition called lazy eye, where the child depends on one eye and the unused eye becomes weaker.

Teary eyes

At first, newborn babies do not have the capability to produce tears when they cry. This ability develops toward the end of the first month. Around this time, some newborn babies develop a blocked tear duct, which is a blockage of the pathway that carries tears from the eye to the nose. The eye may seem constantly teary, with tears spilling over at times, even when the newborn baby is not crying. Usually the eye is not red and the eyelid is not swollen. Blocked tear ducts usually clear up by the end of the first year, but your doctor may recommend helping it along by massaging the inner corner of the eye. However, if the eye becomes red or swollen, it could be a sign of infection, and you should have your baby seen by a doctor. If the blockage lasts past the first year, an ophthalmologist may need to be seen to help open up the blockage.

Hazel Pleasants, RN, MN

Andrew James, MBChB, FRACP, FRCPC