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What Does It Mean When a Baby Stares at You?

Baby with a toy

Have you found yourself in a staring contest with an infant? It’s the cutest thing in the world. But wait, what does it mean when a baby stares at you? They’re so young, what could possibly captivate their attention?

The baby’s attention and gaze are good signs of developing cognitive skills. For the first few months of their life, everything is new to them, thus they are curious about the world. Keep reading to learn more about your baby’s vision and the reasons why they stare at you.

The baby's peeking out from under the blanket

Image by Charly W. Karl from Flick

What to Know About a Baby’s Vision

Before anything else, here’s what you need to know: babies are born with a 20/200 vision. In other words, they focus on the objects within 8 to 12 inches of their distance. Which is the distance when mothers feed or fathers play with their little bundle of joy.

Beyond 12 inches from the baby’s distance, it’s all a big blur on the baby’s eyes. Much like the cognitive and motor skills of an infant, visual abilities develop over time as well. That’s how a child’s development goes. Here are other interesting facts about a baby’s vision:

  • Babies find it hard to shift their focus from one object to another
  • Newborns are sensitive to light
  • The objects at the baby’s side are easily visible thanks to their peripheral vision (side vision)
  • The objects far away from them (exceeding 12 inches) are still pretty blurry because their central vision is still developing.
  • For the first 2 months, the baby may appear cross-eyed because they tend to wander to their sides. However, if one of the baby’s turned inward or outward constantly, it’s best to consult a doctor.
  • Between six to eight weeks, the baby gaze is often paired with facial expressions like smiling especially when they recognize their parents or primary caregivers.
  • By the 3rd month, a baby can focus on objects that are 8-12 inches away from them.
  • By the 5th month, babies begin to see objects farther from 12 inches. At this age, their color vision is also developing.
  • By 2 years old, eye-hand coordination, color vision and depth perception are usually well developed.

5 Reasons of a Baby Staring for Long Periods

Now that you’re aware of the baby’s vision, it’s time to know the reason why they stare. Here are 5 reasons why babies stare:

1. They Are Curious About the World Around Them

The first reason why babies stare is their curiosity about the world around them. Babies are fascinated by the things, movements, or sounds around them as they’re experiencing or witnessing them for the first time.

Their brain develops as they take in the new sights and they’re studying their surroundings that’s why they stare. As they stare at the world around them, they are learning and it helps with their brain development. Your infant’s early days mark a milestone of learning and brain development through their gaze.

May it be a moving object, dad’s bushy beard, an aunt’s colorful hair, contrasting colors, and even movements, babies are naturally drawn to them thanks to their inner curiosity. In fact, a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that curious babies become the most curious toddlers. Bottom line? Let your baby stare away to feed their curiosity and help them learn.

2. They Are Trying to Communicate

Other than their curiosity, the baby’s gaze may also mean they’re trying to communicate. As early as three months, babies learn to recognize their parents or primary caregivers. And there staring is their way to communicate.

Babies can’t quite interact yet for the first few months, so their staring is their way of communicating with you. A baby looking zoned out may be a way of communicating that they are sleepy. But can’t quite give up on staring because of the exciting sights around them.

3. They Are Drawn to Something Attractive

Naturally, babies tend to draw their attention to something attractive. It can be moving objects, high-contrast images, or even interesting features of an attractive person. Yes! Babies stare longer at attractive people. Kid you not, this is true!

A study conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles has shown that babies stare longer at attractive people. Many other decade-long studies could back up this claim. But what are the standards of beauty for babies? They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Babies have no clue what society’s standards of beauty are. All humans are beautiful but people with distinct or interesting facial features are the ones baby stares at for long periods.

4. They Are Drawn to Bright Colors

Part of an infant’s visual development is being attracted to bright colors. So they are naturally drawn to bright colors. That’s why hanging crib toys are designed to be colorful because this helps in the development of the baby’s visual development.

It’s not just an amazing coincidence that these toys are colorful, but this is a product of years of study to help your baby develop their visual abilities. So if your baby is staring for long periods at colorful objects around them, let them be.

5. They Are Drawn to Movements

At three months old, babies start to catch on with the movements around them. Have you noticed when you take your baby outside in a stroller they zone out and stare for a long period with the view in front of them? It’s because they are drawn to movements.

Movements from the ceiling fans and even videos cause them to space out and stare as well. All these motions are new to their eyes and it helps in developing their visual and sensory skills as well.

When You Should Worry About Your Baby’s Staring Habit

The above mentioned are the reasons why a baby stares at you. But what if the stare is unusual and it keeps you worried? When your baby stares blankly for 20-30 seconds, and cannot be distracted, take a video of the event and show it to your pediatrician.

If you tried distracting your baby by waiving or speaking, but your baby continues to stare blankly, in some cases this may indicate a mild seizure. Consult a doctor immediately.

Toddler smiling

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why Do Babies Stare at Nothing and Smile?

Babies staring and smiling at nothing is normal. In fact, there’s nothing to worry about. When a baby is staring and smiling at nothing, you don’t need to worry about anything.

  1. Do Babies Stare at Attractive Faces Longer?

Yes, decade-long studies show that babies stare at an attractive face longer. Studies have shown that babies are more fixated at staring longer at more beautiful faces as compared to those with less interesting features.

The Takeaway

Now there you have it! When you catch your baby staring for a long period, it might mean they’re curious about the world around them, they’re trying to learn or they’re just naturally drawn to the objects or sights around them.

Babies observe everything around them and this is a sight that their brain starts to develop. However, if you have concerns like unusual staring habits or behavior, it is best to always consult a pediatrician.