New research suggests that, unlike what was previously thought, babies can see some colour from birth. But it takes a few months for a baby to develop full colour vision. Here's what we know about what they can see when...


Which colours can a newborn baby see?

It has long been thought that a newborn baby can't see colour and can only see in black and white and shades of grey. But this may not be true: they may actually be able to see some colour.

Of course, whether your newborn can see some colour or not, they can't see very far and can really only focus on objects that are about 20cm to 30cm away from their face. This is about the distance between your face and theirs if you are breastfeeding.

Which colours can a 2-month-old baby see?

It will vary but generally a 2 month old will see black and white and the primary colours red, blue and yellow. Red is the first colour they'll be able to distinguish.

It was thought that full colour vision doesn’t develop until around 4 to 5 months but newer research has suggested that this may happen earlier.

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What will help my baby see colours?

Your baby could distinguish between light and dark even when they were in the womb. So, exposing your baby to strong, high-contrast images (on toys and mobiles and playmats) may be useful: maybe initially in black and white and then colour – but always strong colours, as opposed to muted blended shades.

Small babies also choose to look at certain things over others: they show preference for looking at faces, for example. So high-contrast images of faces might be a good choice.

When can a baby see colours clearly?

Researchers find it hard to say for sure, as the babies (obviously) can't talk and tell us but it seems to be that brighter colours are seen first. Initially, babies may find it difficult to distinguish between shades of colour, so bright, opposing colours may be easier to see.

By about 5 months old, your baby should have reasonably clear colour vision but they may not see colour as clearly as an adult, finding it harder to distinguish between shades.

How can you tell if your baby has colour vision deficiency (colour blindness)?

It is difficult to tell if your baby can see colour until they are able to communicate with you, which will come much later on. Even when they can talk and communicate, it can still be difficult to identify colour vision deficiency as every child will take time to learn the names of colours.

But some children with colour vision deficiency may continue to have difficulty naming colours, or distinguishing colours when there are lots of colours together. They may also have difficulty sorting objects by colour, even without needing to name them. School or nursery may also have concerns.

Colour testing is not routinely part of an NHS eye test but you can ask your optician about it if you are concerned about your child. There are tests, such as Ishihara tests, which involve looking at coloured dots and seeing it you can identify a number in the dots or use your finger to trace them.

What is the treatment for colour vision deficiency?

There are varying forms of colour vision deficiency but there isn't currently a treatment. However, if your child is diagnosed as colour blind, it is important to tell their school or nursery, so that they can make adjustments to some lessons/resources for them. For example, resources used for phonics and early reading words sometimes include words printed in green or red in the same sentence, and this may need to be changed.

If your child has colour vision deficiency, it may also be that they cannot do certain jobs in later life that require full colour vision, such as being an airline pilot.

Pics: Getty Images


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Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice.