Newborn Baby Eyes

What color are his eyes?

Eye Color

What color are his eyes? Well, we don't know yet. When babies are first born, the irises haven't developed any color yet. The color that you can see is steel blue. It comes from the deeply pigmented retina that covers the inside of the eyeball. The retina is the part of the layer of the eye that perceives light and transmits the "seeing" to the brain. The retina is almost black, and it looks blue when seen through the pale iris.

Dark eyed babies can develop color in their irises by a couple months of age. Light eyed babies can take over six months to develop their eye color.

I wouldn't argue with a relative who insists your baby's eyes look blue, because they do. Just realize the color is going to change over several months.

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Why won't she open her eyes?

Eyes Shut

Your baby will keep her eyes closed most of the time. Inside mom's uterus, it was dark all the time, so her eyes aren't used to bright light. If you are in a darkened room, she will probably open her eyes. It takes about two weeks for most babies to get used to daylight.

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Is that blood in his eye? (Scleral Hemorrhage)

Scleral Hemorrhage

You may not notice this at first, because your baby barely opens his eyes for the first few days. But don't be surprised if you see what looks like blood on the whites of his eyes. These are called "scleral hemorrhages," and they are very common in newborn babies.

When mom is going through labor and delivery, her baby's head undergoes a tremendous amount of pressure. Tiny blood vessels in the sclera (the whites of the eyes) can burst from the pressure. It is a bruise on the eyeball. There is no permanent damage to the eyes.

Scleral hemorrhages take a few weeks to go away. You don't have to do anything about them.

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Why does she open just one eye?

One Eye Open

Eyelids are very sensitive and can swell up from things that would not affect other parts of our bodies. So, in the process of being born, most newborns end up with puffy eyelids. The result is that we often see new babies with one eye opened and one eye closed. Which eye looks more puffy just depends on which eye was downward when the baby was laying down. Don't worry. Eyelid puffiness and looking-through-one-eye will go away within a week.

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Why are his eyelids red? (Nevus Flammeus or Salmon Patches)

Red Eyelids

Your baby may have red eyelids. This is caused by tiny little blood vessels (capillaries) close to the surface of his skin. These marks are normal and they go away in a year or two. You don't have to do anything. They will flush darker when he cries.

Baby skin is very thin and translucent, so the blood vessels show up easily. These marks can also be on his forehead, his upper lip, and at the nape of his neck. They are very common, but nobody remembers having them. If you look at a lot of pictures of newborns, about half of the babies will have these marks.

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Are her eyes crossed?

Eyes Crossed

Like all the muscles in her body, your baby doesn't have control of her eye muscles yet. There will be times when you know she is looking right at you. Then other times, her eyes will be going different directions.

We give babies four months for their eyes to work together consistently. Your pediatrician will check your baby's eyes every visit. If she still isn't using her eyes together at four months, she will be referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist (eye specialist).

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What should I do about his sticky eye?

Sticky Eyes

Your baby may wake up with sticky eyes. Usually all you have to do is gently clean his eyelids with plain water.

Our tears are made under the upper eyelid and wash across the eye to drain into tiny little ducts (nasal lacrimal ducts), one in each eyelid, near the nose. So our tears drain into our nose, and we have runny noses when we cry. In newborn babies, it is very common for the ducts that drain the tears to not open right away. Newborn babies don't make a lot of tears.

When a newborn does make tears, they don't drain, but sort of swirl around in the eye, drip out the side, or dry on the lids, making the eyes sticky. In most babies, the blockage goes away in a few weeks.

If the tear ducts don't open up in a few weeks, your pediatrician will tell you about massaging your baby's tear ducts and maybe putting medicine in his eyes if they look red. The rest of the treatment is usually time and patience because the tear ducts open up by themselves in most babies.

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Thanks to Janelle Aby MD, Stanford School Of Medicine, Newborn Nursery, and Lucille Packard Children's Hospital for the use of occasional photographs.