Would your baby's baby blues or browns benefit from a visual workout? Experts say the answer is a resounding yes. "Babies will have an advantage later if they get more visual stimulation early on," says Robert Duckman, O.D., professor of optometry at the State University of New York State College of Optometry. And that means stronger eyesight and better hand-eye coordination. In fact, a recent study found that babies treated for cataracts in the weeks after birth experienced significant improvement in their vision after just one hour of gazing around the room and at their parents.
GOOD EYE CANDY
But before you decorate the nursery in stripes and spots, you need to know what kind of visual stimulation is appropriate. "Parents need to make sure that their baby's environment includes high-contrast objects and patterns, but not ones that are so complex it will cause them to close their eyes," says researcher Terri Lewis, Ph.D., adjunct professor of ophthalmology at the University of Toronto. "Above all, babies need to see faces. That's what they like best."
For the nursery, use large-patterned mobiles, toys, or bedding in black-and-white or high-contrast primary colors during the first three months of life. Experts say to avoid decorating Baby's room in all white, or tiny, busy prints. "Some parents go to the extreme and put patterns everywhere. That can overstimulate the child and cause him to get cranky," says Dr. Duckman. You can also stock up on toys that develop hand-eye coordination, such as blocks and shape sorters.
A MUST-HAVE EXAM
To protect your baby's vision over the long haul, experts stress that all children between 6 months and 2 years (at the latest) should have their vision tested by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. "Research has proven that infants have very sophisticated visual systems, which can be tested even if your child only knows a handful of words," says Dr. Duckman. More important, doctors will also screen for certain eye problems such as an eye turn (crossed eye) and amblyopia (lazy eye), conditions that are most successfully treated when caught early. For more information on infant eye health, visit the Children's Vision section of the American Optometric Association's website at www.aoanet.org