Why Do Babies Stare?

Find out what it means if your baby watches strangers while out and about.

Most of us are really uncomfortable when we catch someone staring at us. When it comes to babies, they tend to do it a lot. But are they staring because they like you or think you’re funny looking or are they staring at the world around them, just taking in all the sights?

We turned to the experts for the answer.

Understanding a baby’s vision

According to Dr. Harvey Karp, nationally renowned pediatrician and child development specialist, babies are born with 20/200 vision, meaning they focus well on objects within 8 to 12 inches of them – which is exactly how far away your face is during feedings. But beyond that, he says, things can be pretty blurry and it’s difficult for babies to shift their focus from one object to another.

“This is why they may lock their peepers on one thing at a time,” Karp says.

According to the American Optometric Association, babies learn to see over a period of time, much like they learn to walk and talk. They are not born with all the visual abilities they need in life. The ability to focus their eyes, move them accurately and use them together as a team must be learned. By age 2, a child’s eye-hand coordination and depth perception are generally well developed.

Blame it on curiosity

Like children and adults, babies are generally curious beings and tend to stare as they get to know you. They are also naturally drawn to faces and might be attracted to interesting features like glasses or a bushy beard.

“They are fascinated by the movements of your eyes and lips and the amazing coincidence that when you move your mouth, sounds tumble out,” Karp says. “And they stare at the world as they try to make out all the new and exciting sights around them. Your infant’s early days mark a burst of brain development, so, it’s safe to say that studying their surroundings is one way that babies begin to learn about the world.”

Dr. Arthur Lavin, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, says he believes that curiosity is what drives staring.

“Babies brains are all about recognizing and learning patterns,” says Lavin. “When they stare, they’ve somehow connected to a pattern, which can be anything from the line between two walls where they meet to a light in the ceiling. Because everything is new to babies, it is physically impossible for them not to be curious.”

Between six weeks and two months, Lavin says, stares are often paired with facial expressions like smiling, when babies begin to recognize caretakers.

Karp says that much like we look at a friend and see that something may be different, such as a new haircut, babies are especially curious when something is “off” to them, or if they suddenly spot a feature they have never seen before.

“For example, if you put your glasses on upside down, your 2-month-old may stare at you quizzically, trying to figure out what is different,” Karp says.

An indicator of alertness

Lavin says that staring and curiosity means that babies are alert and their brains are developing properly.

“A sign of alertness is a healthy mind that is hungry to learn,” says Lavin. “Babies learn 100 percent on their own by looking. To them, every experience they see through their eyes is a massive learning moment.”

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