Are Babies Born Color Blind?

by Suzanne Robin

    Vision takes time to develop in babies. Your brand new baby sees very little, because he can't focus his eyes well, and concentrates mostly on objects within 8 to 10 inches of his face, according to the American Optometric Association. All of what he sees comes in three basic color combinations: black, white and shades of gray. Color blindness is a temporary condition in most babies, and lasts just a few weeks before colors start to creep into what he sees.

    Color Vision at Birth

    Your baby doesn't see in color when he's born because the rods and cones, which allow for color vision, haven't fully developed yet. Three different types of cones sense color, one each for red, green, or blue light. Rods help you see in low-light situations. Cones might not all begin to function at the same time. In the first month, your baby can see well enough to distinguish between shades of gray with just 5 percent contrast between them. By 9 weeks, his vision for color increases tenfold, so that he can distinguish between two grays that vary by just 0.5 percent, according to the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute.

    First Colors

    As early as one week after birth, your baby begins to distinguish colors. The first colors your baby perceives are red, orange, yellow and green, optometrist Gary Heitling explains on the All About Vision website. Because blue and violet have shorter wavelengths and fewer receptors in the retina for visualizing them, it takes longer for your baby to distinguish them. So if you think your baby likes red, you may well be right!

    Full Color Vision

    By the time your baby reaches the age of 2 months, he can distinguish between most colors, especially if the stimuli are large and the difference between them marked, according to the textbook "Perceptual Development: Visual, Auditory and Speech Perception in Infancy," edited by Alan Slater. By age 5 months, most babies see in full color, although the colors might not appear as bright to them as they do to an adult with normal color vision, the American Optometric Association explains.

    Color Blindness

    Around one in 12 babies of Northern European descent, most of them males, have an inherited form of red-green color blindness, the most common type of color blindness, according to MayoClinic.com. Fewer than one in 10,000 babies have blue-yellow colorblindness and one in 30,000 have true complete colorblindness. If your baby is colorblind to some extent, he can often still distinguish colors, but might confuse some similar shades. Your child probably won't realize he has color vision loss until someone points it out to him.

    About the Author

    Suzanne Robin is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology. She also has extensive experience working in home health with developmentally delayed or medically fragile children. Robin received her RN degree from Western Oklahoma State College. She has coauthored and edited numerous books for the Wiley "Dummies" series.

    Photo Credits

    • Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images