Your newborn baby is the center of your universe. You probably spend most of your waking hours just staring at the beautiful, new life that you are nurturing– but what happens when your baby’s new eyes can’t meet your own?
You may be concerned if your baby’s eyes seem glassy or unable to focus. She may look cross-eyed or appear to have a lazy eye. I remember thinking, when my daughter was a newborn, that her eyes almost looked like those of an astonishingly realistic doll– able to move, but not able to focus.
Should you be concerned about your cross-eyed newborn baby? Here are a few facts to consider.
1. It’s completely normal. It’s not just acceptable for a newborn baby to have crossed or mis-aligned eyes — it’s actually the norm. The sensitive nerves and muscles controlling your baby’s eyes develop gradually, sometimes not reaching full maturity until your child’s first birthday or later. During the first one to three months, almost all babies have a glassy, mis-aligned or slightly cross-eyed gaze. Your baby is actually unusual if he has a constantly fixed gaze from birth.
2. It usually doesn’t last long. Crossed eyes in a newborn usually self-resolve without any specific treatment. Most babies will outgrow an off-kilter stare at around one month of age, but others take longer. Parenting guru Heidi Murkoff (of “What to Expect” fame) notes that almost all babies outgrow that cross-eyed look by four months.
3. Premies develop a little later. Even if your baby is only slightly premature, her eyes will still be less focused than a full-term baby of the same age. So don’t be surprised if your super-premie’s eyes are still crossed when she is three, four, or possibly even five months old. Odds are good that her eyes will even out without any lasting problems. Every day in the womb will make a difference in your baby’s degree of innate eye coordination.
4. There could be an underlying problem. It’s possible, but unlikely, that your baby’s crossed eyes are caused not by normal early-infant development. Some potential underlying problems include amblyopia, or lazy-eye, or strabismus, or crossed-eye. These conditions occur when the nerves in your baby’s eyes fail to align and adjust properly. Fortunately, these conditions are rarely serious and often treatable.
5. Your baby’s doctor will know what’s up. Your baby’s pediatrician will look at your baby’s eyes during each check-up, and will probably catch a problem in your baby’s eye development even if you fail to notice it. For this reason, it’s usually not necessary to worry about your newborn baby’s crossed eyes unless your pediatrician has also noted the problem. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to bring up any concerns that you may have about your baby’s health and development.
6. Your baby may need help for persistent crossed eyes. If your baby’s eyes do seem to be unusually off-kilter for her age, her doctor may conduct a few simple tests. These can take place during your normal office visit while you hold your baby. The doctor will examine your baby’s eye alignment in comparison to other babies her age. The pediatrician can also check the baby’s eye movements for signs of nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. If necessary, he’ll refer you to a pediatric ophthamologist for treatment.
In general, you don’t need to worry about your baby’s eyesight. You can instead simply enjoy that sweet, wondrous stare as your baby begins seeing the big, bright world outside your womb. As long as your baby is getting regular screenings at his pediatrician’s office, odds are slim that you’re seeing an undiagnosed visual problem.
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