Eye contact with your baby right after birth is among the most precious moments in a parent’s life. Eye contact holds an extraordinary place in our life because it makes us feel recognized and important by our baby. Therefore, we want our babies to start making eye contact with us as soon as possible- no surprise there! But what if your baby seems to struggle with this seemingly easiest task? Could it be the sign of something serious, or is it too soon to expect eye contact? This post will answer your concerns regarding why your baby is shy of making eye contact with you and the people around?
Babies have extremely rapid development of gaze. Babies start taking an interest in their mother’s or caretaker’s face right after 7 hours of birth. In the first 6-10 weeks, babies start holding their gaze intentionally by widening their eyes. Around the age of 3 months, they can follow the movement of their parents with their eyes. And by 9-11 months, babies develop the ability to follow one’s gaze. They follow their parents’ and caregivers’ gaze and understand that their eyes are meant to look and see. Eye contact is among the first and critical milestones for a baby, which has both emotional and intellectual importance. Eyes play a critical role for babies in obtaining information about the world around them. They help them make associations between voices and persons. Eye contact holds much significance for babies in the long run. It will help them be calm and regulated, engage, and relate to others, and initiate and respond to different types of communication. Eye contact is like a window to the world around and contributes largely towards gaining the information of it. It helps them develop the skill of language and vocabulary and helps them develop the relationship between the object and the word you called it with. If your baby is 3 months old and still hasn’t started establishing eye contact, consult a professional. He has the tools to determine if this issue is related to the baby’s eyesight, sensory processing capacity, or other developmental issues.
Understanding the right age for babies to make eye contact
According to Dr. Edward Kulich, a pediatrician at Celebrity Pediatrics in Watchung, New Jersey, and Lourdes E. Quintana, director of Early Steps at the Howard Phillips Center for Children and Families in Orlando, Florida, Vision development is a progressive process, and newborns are only able to see things and people that are a foot away from their eyes, which is equal to the distance between the mom’s eyes and the newborn’s during breastfeeding. Around 2 months of age, babies can focus and make eye contact with the people around them, and the older they get, the more interactive and progressive their eye contact becomes.
When a baby is 6-month-old, he starts taking an interest in the people and environment around them. They are fond of faces, and the first face that they focus their energies on is mostly their mother or the caregiver, looking after them. Eye contact is critical for a baby’s development because that is how he will connect with you and his siblings.
What to do if your baby isn’t making any eye contact?
If your baby is 3 months old and can’t make eye contact so far, then it’s time you take him to the pediatrician. Normally babies and toddlers make consistent eye contact, somedays more interactively than others. An early checkup can help you know the problem and treat it accordingly.
Sometimes the eye contact could be related to your baby’s hearing capability. Pediatricians conduct a hearing test at first to know if the baby has some conductive hearing loss. In conductive hearing loss, the ears work fine, but something is interrupting the sound. Conductive hearing loss can be one reason your baby is not responding to the environment, his name when called and engaging with the people around.
What is conductive hearing loss?
Hearing loss is prevalent among babies and toddlers, but it is usually due to an ear infection. Most babies that breastfeed or bottle-feed tend to develop an ear infection as the fluid gets into their ears. However, ear infections are more popular among babies that are bottle-fed than the ones breastfed. Even after prescribing the antibiotics, some fluid remains in the ear, interrupting the sound baby hears. This remaining fluid is the reason for causing conductive hearing loss among babies, making them unresponsive to sounds and people.
What to do if my baby previously made eye contact but doesn’t anymore?
First thing first, take your baby to your pediatrician before jumping to conclusions. Eye regression in babies can be a sign of a bigger issue with eye or brain development.
Eye contact is not always the result of autism, because in autism, babies avoid looking at you due to exceeding sensory input. So, to look at you, they first have to look away to focus back on what you are trying to say.
Whether your baby is suffering from eye contact regression or autism, make sure to never force him to look at you, as he is having a sensory overload and it may worsen the condition.
Avoiding eye contact – an early sign of autism
More than often, babies that avoid making eye contact end up diagnosed with autism. Babies can make eye contact during their first 6 months, but anything otherwise could be an early indication of autism. Following behavior patterns can be seen in babies and infants who have autism:
- He doesn’t seem interested in looking at you.
- He repeatedly fails to recognize the familiar faces.
- He doesn’t cry upon your leave and among strangers.
- He gazes out from the corner of the eye.
- He finds it hard to follow the objects visually.
- He doesn’t respond to his name or familiar voices.
- He neither try nor responds to your cuddles.
How to check the warning signs of autism
Do the following tests repeatedly for a few days to confirm your baby’s condition:
Object and image scanning
In this test, the baby is shown two objects, A colorful painting and an interesting object like a rattle, one in each hand. Hold these objects about one foot away from your baby’s face and note the number of times your baby scans between the picture and the object in a minute.
Your 6-9 months old baby should be able to scan about 4-8 times between the objects in a minute. A lesser number of scans indicate that the baby is indeed suffering from autism.
Object and sound
In this test, hold an interesting object like a toy or drawing in one hand and a bell in another. Make sure to hide the bell behind so that your baby is not able to see it. While showing the object to your baby, ring the bell and notice if your baby moves his gaze or head around to look for the source of the sound. Note the following gestures:
- How many times does the baby turn to look for the sound?
- How long did you have to ring the bell for your baby before he moved towards the sound?
A healthy baby/infant would turn towards the sound within 2-3 seconds.
Face your baby with a plain face, and then make a big smile for 5 seconds. Now, wait for your baby to smile back at you and notice the times he smiles back. A healthy baby should be able to smile back at you every time.
Following red object
Make your baby Lay on his back and hold a red ball in your hand at about 1 foot away from your baby’s face. Then notice the distance that your baby follows the ball from and the number of times he follows it with his eyes.
A healthy baby should be able to scan and follow the object about as many times as you moved the ball and from a foot away.
The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that all babies and toddlers must be screened for developmental delays and disabilities at the age of 9 months, 18 months, and 24 or 30 months. Early detection of autism can prove to be very effective in the treatment, so watch out for the signs.
Eye contact is the first developmental milestone for a healthy baby, but if your baby is having trouble with this one, then consult your pediatrician immediately, for this could be the result of a conductive hearing loss or autism.
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