It doesn’t take an expert to say that the womb is a dark place. Apart from our skin and muscles blocking off any light, the uterus is surrounded by large bones with thickened ligaments which not only help hold the weight of the fetus, but also prevent light from flooding inside. According to various studies, a fetus’ eyes begin functioning inside the womb despite the fact that it is extremely dark.
Your baby’s eyes will develop throughout the entire pregnancy, and even continue developing after he or she is born! How do doctors test fetal vision? Apart from 4D ultrasounds, babies born before their due date also give us a good indication of what a fetus can really see. The earliest a baby has been born and survived is at 22 weeks old.
These preemies born well before their due date have many physiological issues such as underdeveloped skin and organs but they can surprisingly complete a whole host of activities, such as breathing properly and even seeing fairly well. Every parent should educate themselves with what their baby is capable of seeing before birth so they are immediately aware if something seems off in their baby’s vision, and get treatment without delay.
15 Messages To The Brain - 4 Weeks
The Optic nerve is among the first elements of the eye to begin forming in the fetus. When the first month of pregnancy nears completion, optic nerves begin to form in baby’s eyes. The optic nerve can be seen as the bridge between the eyes and the brain. It is composed of innumerable nerve cells that hold the vital responsibility of relaying information from the eyes to the brain.
Correct development of the optic nerves makes it possible for information to flow smoothly between the eye and brain and in turn, the fetus is able to understand the images that it sees. The early formation of optic nerves in the fetal eye would explain the results by a recent study published in Current Biology, which revealed that fetus’ were able to recognize light patterns that resembled faces.
14 Focus Fetus, Focus - 4 Weeks
The fourth week of pregnancy is not only the time in which optic nerves begin to develop in the fetal eye but when lens formation begins as well. The lens in the eye gives your baby the ability to focus on objects accurately and precisely. In most cases, the human body gives preference to maintaining and regulating that which is vital to survival, this is a basic principle of physiology. The ability to focus on objects is absolutely vital for proper vision and can not be compromised.
The necessity of having a well-functioning lens in our eye is probably why the fetus begins producing the lens so early in development. Once again, the development of the lens is proven by the study in Current Biology because the fetus’ were actually able to focus on varying light patterns shown in varying locations of the womb.
13 Getting Ready To Cry - 6 Weeks
The lacrimal glands of the eye, also known as the tear ducts begin to form as early as 6 weeks of gestation. You may have noticed that infants do not produce any tears when they cry. Infants definitely tear up when they are upset, but they are not able to produce tears like us adults. If their Lacrimal glands are made so early in the womb, why are they unable to produce tears?
The Lacrimal glands are created while you baby is still in the womb but interestingly enough they do not activate until after the third week of your baby’s birth. This late activation is because the tear ducts continue to grow even after birth, lacrimal glands need more time to develop outside the womb, therefore, they are not perfectly functional. Another reason for this late activation is that amniotic fluid may be clogging the ducts in the first few weeks. A newborn's tear ducts should unclog by 6 months - if the ducts remain clogged after 6 months, the baby might simply need a quick outpatient surgery to help unclog the ducts.
12 Colorblind Fetus - 8 Weeks
Your baby isn’t really able to differentiate between colors until roughly three months of age. The ability to recognize colors and different light intensities are controlled by the eye region termed the retina. Even though your baby won't have a fully functional retina until after being born, the retina forms at only 8 weeks of pregnancy! The retina alone takes an entire 6 months to develop completely.
The retina holds the cells which are responsible for differentiating color; black and white contrasted with darkness and brightness. The retina develops most rapidly from around 24 weeks gestation to 3 months old. Even after your baby is born, the retina continues to develop, which explains why an infant can not really discriminate between colors until they are roughly 4 months old.
11 Seeing Their Twin For The First Time - 14 Weeks
When you shine a flashlight or any bright light toward your belly, your baby will generally react by moving away from it. Shining light into the womb obviously lights up a portion of the womb, and your baby is able to visualize a very blurry picture of whatever it looks like inside. This is especially significant if you’re carrying twins! A study conducted at the University of Turin revealed that twins begin to interact with each other as early as 14 weeks of gestation!
Not only did the fetus’ reach towards their twins a few times, but they actually increased the number of movements towards their twin as the pregnancy progressed. In fact, the fetus’ reached more toward their twins than they did towards themselves! It just goes to show how humans really are social creatures.
10 Checking Things Out - 16 Weeks
By 16 weeks the fetus is able to make small movements with its eyes. This is due to the formation of the extraocular muscles in your little one's eyes. These muscles, which control eye movement, start forming at around 4 weeks gestation. It’s actually quite remarkable to realize the complexity of vision. Not only does the eye have to collaborate color, light intensity and sending signals to the brain, but it also has to be able to physically move around to optimize our ability to see.
Luckily the fetus develops mobility with its eyes well before it’s born so when our baby is born we don’t miss out on watching its curious eyes wander around the room, processing all the new faces and images that it sees!
9 Experimenting With Blinking - 16 Weeks
In the second trimester, the fetus opens its eyes fully for the first time. This may seem like something small, but when you consider the fact that the skin and muscles on the eyelids and the muscles required to operate the eye all have to be developed to a certain degree in order for your baby to accomplish this small task, then it becomes quite clear that opening the eye is truly a remarkable feat. Apart from accomplishing this important task, the fetus is able to look around and blink as well. Blinking may seem like a trivial thing to learn as well because it comes to us so naturally, but in reality, it is an important maneuver for the human eye.
When your baby blinks, it helps flush out debris that has collected in the eyes. You can think of blinking as a windshield wiper, but for your eyes! Not only does blinking clean out debris in a fraction of a second, but as your baby blinks, the eyelid covers its eyeball with lubricating fluids to prevent it from drying out.
8 Seeing Light - 17 Weeks
You must have heard about or even seen many pregnant women shining flashlights onto their stomachs to view the reactions of their babies. It’s actually quite remarkable, but a fetus is able to see and react to the light that is directed onto the mother's belly, by moving away in form of surprise. Studies have shown that a fetus is able to detect light at around 17-20 weeks of development, even though its eyes first open at around 26 weeks.
Since vision development is a long and intense process, the fetus’ eyesight continues to develop rapidly even after the baby has been born. Is it safe to shine a flashlight at the fetus? Since there is no evidence to suggest that it is problematic it should be safe to do so, provided you do not do it all the time and for long periods of time.
7 Sunlight For Healthy Vision
Your little one spent 9 months in almost complete darkness, so it is a bit of an adjustment to being exposed to so much light at once. However, the womb is not completely dark all the time. When a bright light is directed at a mother's stomach, or bright light floods the room, the fetus can see and actually responds to the light, especially towards the later months of pregnancy. It is actually proven through research that getting a healthy dose of sunlight during pregnancy improves baby’s vision. In research labs, mother mice who were not exposed to sunlight had baby’s born with visual defects.
These results are not only exclusive to mice as other studies have supported that women who get pregnant during winter months or in colder areas (with less sun exposure) have more chances of their babies developing vision problems at birth. How much sun is enough sun? You don’t have to sit in the sun all day, but as long as you’re getting out at least a few days a week, or have your house well lit, your little one’s vision will not be affected.
6 Seeing Dreams - 28 Weeks
Physically being able to see is one thing, but what about the ability to see dreams? According to the American Institute of Physics; a seven-month old fetus generally shows patterns of sleep which are normal for children and adults alike. These patterns include sessions of frantic Rapid Eye Movement Sleep and calm Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep. Of-course Scientists have not been able to literally measure the brain patterns of a fetus, as that would literally be impossible, but 4D ultrasounds have made it possible for researchers to assess the eye movements of the developing baby.
EEG’s have been conducted on Preemies in an attempt to understand the fetal sleep cycle, but with no clear results. The observation of REM and non-REM cycles through 4D ultrasounds are the only evidence, albeit strong evidence, that your little baby is capable of dreaming even before being born!
5 Seeing Images Made By Light Patterns - 32 Weeks
Seeing light is one thing, but a fetus is able to do much more than that. A very recent study revealed that fetus’ are able to not only detect light, but they have an ability to differentiate between different shapes and even have preferences! A very recent study published in Current Biology has revealed, through recent advances in 4D ultrasound technology, that infants in the third trimester not only look up when light patterns (of dots in different shapes) are directed towards the womb, but they actually have a tendency to look more towards those light stimuli that resemble faces. This shows us that a fetus is able to see light patterns and even have a preference for looking at patterns that look more like a face.
4 Controlling Light - 32 Weeks
Controlling light influx into the eye, or rather controlling how much light the fetus can see, or cannot see, is not necessarily a trait needed in the womb, as most of the time the fetus is experiencing complete and utter darkness. For this reason, the ability of the iris to contract and dilate is developed as late as the eighth month of gestation and even continues to develop after the baby is born. The iris on the other hand, which is responsible for controlling light influx develops very early, at 5 weeks gestation.
Premature babies that are born before the eighth month of pregnancy need eye protection because even though they have well-developed iris’, they have not developed the muscles which control the iris yet so they may be at risk of being blinded by too much light.
3 To Vitamin Or Not To Vitamin
It is essential to get the proper dosage of vitamin A during your pregnancy. Vitamin A is not only good for your health, especially your healing, but it is also essential for the growth of your fetus. Taking the adequate amount of vitamin A during your pregnancy ensures the healthy development of bones and especially the eyes of the fetus. Studies have shown that women who did not consume enough vitamin A during their pregnancy had more chances of giving birth to babies with various eye problems such as; conjunctivitis, the inability to produce tears and the thickening of the cornea.
It is very important however that you do not overdose on vitamin A either because overdosing on Vitamin A has proven to cause birth defects as well. The best way to ensure you get the right amount of vitamin A is to take your prenatal pills and eat a healthy diet!
2 Eye Color Continues To Changes
When your baby is born you might notice that he or she appears to have gray or pale blue eyes. This can be very exciting for a lot of parents, especially if you’re not used to having these beautiful shades in the family. The unfortunate reality of these rare colors springing up in your offsprings pupils is that, in most cases, it’s only temporary. Why is that the case? As your little fetus develops all the functions of its eyes it is also developing colored pigments which will determine its eye color. As your baby is born it takes time for melanin, the pigment responsible for darkness, to build up. Asian babies are generally born with a lot of melanin in their eyes already, so they usually have dark eyes at birth regardless.
1 It Doesn’t Stop There
Even though your baby has spent the entire nine months in the womb developing its eyes, they are still not perfect at birth. It can take up to half a year for the fetus to grow its eye to the correct size, as at birth its eye is only about half the size it should be. Not only is the size of the eye small, but the movements of the eye are not perfectly balanced, the eye is not in perfect synchronicity with the brain and the lens needs adjustment as well. When a baby is born its vision can be graded as 20/400! Clearly, there is a lot of room for improvement. In half a year, vision improves to a visual acuity of 20/25 which is about as well as we, adults, can see.
Vision is a complicated phenomenon and your little one begins working on perfecting it as early as a few weeks after conception. Throughout the nine weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s eyes undergo a rapid transition and become functional and mobile. Your baby is able to see from when it is inside the womb and its vision keeps improving even after it's born.
Sources: ScienceDirect.com, Science20.com, Sciencedaily.com, Whattoexpect.com, 2020Mag.com, Independent.co.uk, Npr.Org, Pregnancyihub.com, Thestir.cafemom.com