Babies' eyes are one of the most delicate and sensitive areas of their bodies so it is important to follow a few basic care and hygiene guidelines from an early age.
Sight is one of a person's most important senses so a baby's eyes require special care from birth. Even if no eye diseases or problems have been diagnosed, you need to follow some basic care and hygiene guidelines to prevent problems in the future.
Our sense of sight starts developing at birth and continues until the age of six or seven. A child's sight develops 50% in the first three years, but it is not until children reach the age of five that their visual acuity reaches that of an adult. Therefore, eye care is extremely important, especially during childhood.
Babies are born with their eyes almost shut due to swelling from the pressure during birth. However, a few days later, they begin to take on their natural appearance. Sometimes they do not open symmetrically, but as long as this does not persist once the swelling has subsided, there is no cause for alarm. In addition, children's eyes produce excess mucus in their early years, even when they are not infected. When they come into contact with the air, these secretions dry out, causing "sleep". It is important to remove this sleep every so often to prevent infections or eyelid obstruction.
You should thoroughly and gently clean your baby's eyes to ensure their health:
- If your baby wakes up with his eyelids glued shut due to excess secretions, do not separate them while dry. Remove the sleep with sterile gauze soaked in a saline solution or in boiled water brought back to warm temperature. The eyes will gradually open on their own.
- Clean the eyes from the tear ducts to the outside of the eye to prevent dirt from being dragged inwards.
- Use fresh gauze for each eye, to avoid passing any infection from one eye to the other.
- You can get specific, single-use eye cleaning towelettes that are more expensive but very useful when travelling or if you are short on time.
- If the eyes are red or swollen or full of a yellow/greenish secretion, visit your paediatrician because they are almost certainly infected.
- If your baby's eyes water in bright light you should see an ophthalmologist too.
Stimulating your baby's eyes
Apart from cleaning, it is also important to stimulate your baby's eyes to help develop his sight as well as possible.
- Natural light is important for the development of sight, so you should give your baby time away from the semi-darkness. That said, in summer you need to protect your baby's eyes with a hat or glasses.
- Show your baby coloured objects with lights and that have varied shapes to develop visual acuity. Move the objects around to stimulate the eyes' ability to focus. Mobiles above the cot are very useful for this.
- Regularly change the position of the cot so your baby does not always have the same angle of vision. It's good for him to be able to see different outlooks.
- You can move a soft light in front of the baby's face so he can follow it with his eyes.
- When your baby is a little older you can do exercises with balls to stimulate hand-eye coordination.
- Babies and young children should see the ophthalmologist once a year for check-ups, but if you suspect some sort of problem they should go as soon as possible.
- It is normal for babies during the early months, or even up to the age of three, to go a little cross-eyed when they are tired.