baby · health · parenting

Moth Boy: Why Do Babies Stare At Lights?

During Little Man’s night time feeds, we try to keep the room as dim as possible, to encourage him to stay sleepy and go back to sleep as soon as possible afterwards. We have a very faint bedside table lamp which is perfect for the job. However, even this is frequently enough to send Little Man into full-blown Moth Boy mode. He loves to just stare at the light, sometimes arching himself backwards almost out of my arms in his desperation to gawk at it. A straw poll of mums from my NCT classes suggests I’m not the only one with a moth baby. Apparently, lots of babies stare at lights!

So, as I love finding out about baby and child development, I decided to do a bit of research…

So why do babies like to stare at lights?

In their first month of life, babies are much less sensitive to light than adults. 50 times less sensitive, in fact.That’s why they like to look at high-contrast black and white shapes in their first couple of months of life. In fact, research has shown that very young babies recognise their mother based on high-contrast stimuli such as the shape of their hairline on their face. If this is obscured e.g. by a cap or scarf, tiny babies aren’t able to recognise their mothers – so don’t change your hairstyle too much when you have a newborn (as if hairstyling will be remotely on your mind).Lights are obviously about as high-contrast as it gets, so they are naturally very appealing to babies!

Can staring at lights damage babies’ eyes?

Well, yes and no. Exposure to light is an important part of the development of normal visual function, and influences the development of neural connections. However, overexposure to high-energy visible light, particularly blue light and UV, can be damaging to eyes of all ages.However it’s not particularly likely that your baby is staring at the sun; it’s usually dimmer indoor lighting that catches their attention. Where artificial lights have the intensity of sunlight, damage can occur from brief exposure. Based on studies in mice, it’s believed that longer term exposure to less intense light can also be damaging. In general there’s no recommendation to stop children from staring at lights, but it’s probably not a bad idea.

How can I protect my baby’s eyes?

It’s recommended to protect your baby’s eyes from bright sunlight just as you would your own – with sunglasses. The possible effect of exposure to blue light from screens is not yet fully understood, so limiting screen time is recommended (and not just to protect your child’s eyesight!).

When do babies stop staring at lights?

It seems to be common behaviour for babies to be attracted to high contrast objects for the first six to eight months, as it helps their eyes to focus. But there’s no set time to expect babies to lose their interest in lights. Like everything else, they’ll get there in their own time.

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