Do you know how you can encourage the development of your baby's vision?
Do you know that newborns can only see in black and white until about six months of age?
In this article, we take a look at why providing high contrast monochrome environment is beneficial for babies.

When babies are born, they do not see the world quite like we do as their retina is not yet fully developed and their vision is only about 5 % of our own. Vision is in fact one of the least developed functions of a newborn’s sensory system (unlike hearing which is fully developed by one month), and your little one's vision won’t catch up to the full capability of an average adult until they are at least 4 years of age.

You may have noticed that your baby loves and responds to being close to you and this is because they can only see around 25-30 cm, which is more or less the distance from your face while feeding or nursing. A baby’s retina at birth can only detect large contrasts between black and white, so, if you have a beautiful pastel or colorful nursery, at this stage, it will do nothing visually for your baby as they may only see them as one shade all merged.  

Over the next few months your baby’s brain will develop rapidly, which is why it is important to include visual stimulation. In their first weeks and months, babies learn to use their eyes – actually their eyes “learn” how to see. In their critical first year of life, your baby’s brain and eyes begin to coordinate images – this is what allows them to remember what they have seen. The right stimulation can increase your baby’s curiosity, attention span, and memory. That is where a black and white nursery comes into play.

What makes sensory stimulation so important?                                                                                      

When you look at your newborn baby, you may think he or she is just lying passively, not doing much, but in fact a lot of learning is going on all the time! New synapses are constantly forming in this all-important period of rapid brain growth. Sensory stimulation of any kind causes the nerve cells in your little one’s brain to multiply and start connecting, and despite everything visual being a little blurry in these early days an incredible 80% of the information newborns absorb comes from what they see.

The nerve cells that are stimulated have a direct pathway to your little one’s brain, accelerating their brain growth and improving their ability to concentrate and focus. The more these nerve cells are stimulated the quicker their brain grows and the faster their visual development, with research repeatedly showing that babies surrounded by the right stimulation reach developmental milestones faster.

This miraculous process needs your support. To help the development of their brains, infants need adequate stimulation.

So where does the black & white come in?

As early as the 1940s research has suggested that the best thing to capture your little ones’ attention and stimulate these all important nerve cells are high contrast black and white shapes. Newborns’ color perception is limited to white, black and shades of grey, because their eyes and capacity for sight are not fully developed at birth. As a result, babies love to look at high-contrast black-and-white patterns, which stand out in their blurry worlds, attracting their attention and helping them focus. Knowing this can help you offer baby the right kind of visual stimulation, which supports the development of sight, but also plays a major role in encouraging cognitive skills and focus of attention.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology in 1960 suggested that the greater the definition of these shapes, the longer the image would hold a little one’s attention, with babies demonstrating a preference for patterned surfaces over plain surfaces, with the complexity of the pattern growing as they did.

Research suggests that black and white contrasting shapes and patterns register the strongest on a baby’s retina, which sends stronger signals to their brain. Stronger signals mean more brain growth and faster visual development. Your baby’s retina and brain may benefit when providing them with continuous visual sensory stimulation through simple black and white, light, and dark pictures and bold, contrasting shapes and patterns. This stems from the fact that babies can tell the difference between light and dark even before they are born. When born, they see shapes by following the lines where light and dark meet and this contrast allows them to start making sense of this brand new world around them.

In his paper ‘Visual Scanning in Infants’ (1968) M M Haith described how a newborn is programmed to search for certain kinds of stimulation - 'a) if alert, and the light is not too bright, open eyes; b) if eyes are open, but see no light, search, c) if see light but no edges keep searching; d) if see edges, hold and cross.’.

Your little one’s ability to distinguish the full clarity of color only comes from repeated stimulation of all their senses, in those early days all 5 senses contributing to their brain development.

So forget about a room of pastels or sea of brightly colored toys. Make sure you integrate some simple black and white shapes and patterns into your little one’s day to help them become the smart cookie you already know them to be!