The moment when your baby's eyes first meet your own is one of the most heartwarming milestones of infancy. New parents who are eagerly awaiting the day when their baby makes eye contact often wonder when their baby will reach this level of development. While babies all develop differently, most do meet developmental milestones, such as eye contact, on a fairly similar schedule. Being a little early or late usually doesn't impact overall development and doesn't change the bond that blossoms between parent and child when you can finally see in his eyes that your child recognizes and adores you.
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Parents typically notice the first direct eye contact from their baby at around 6 to 8 weeks of age. However, there is a much wider range that is still considered normal, and some perfectly normal, healthy babies don't initiate eye contact until 3 months of age. Babies do recognize eye contact from parents as early as two days after birth, according to a 2002 study in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." The newborns in the study preferred to look at faces of people who were looking directly at them instead of those with an averted gaze.
Eye contact indicates that your baby's neurological development is progressing normally. A baby who makes eye contact is showing that she knows what a face is and understands that facial expressions can indicate how a person is feeling. It also makes bonding stronger between parent and child, since it shows you that your baby does know who you are and how important you are in her life.
One major concern when a baby does not develop eye contact is the possibility of a future diagnosis of autism. Autistic children have trouble making eye contact with others, but other signs and symptoms are also present in autistics, so missing this single developmental milestone isn't enough for a definitive diagnosis. It is truly a concern only when the child also does not develop the ability to follow someone else's gaze to look at something, known as exhibiting joint attention, nor understand other aspects of social communication.
A baby needs to be calm and alert to initiate eye contact, so don't try to assess this developmental milestone when she is hungry, upset or sleepy. If your baby is over 3 months old and still not making eye contact, have her pediatrician check her for vision problems. If your baby's vision testing comes out fine, but she still isn't making eye contact, the doctor might suggest testing her for attachment or behavior problems or adopting a wait-and-see attitude of observing her development over the next few months before trying to diagnose a problem.