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.

Just for fun

Teething Sucks, But It Won’t Kill You (Unless You Live In 1842)


Little Man is FINALLY asleep in my lap for his after-lunch nap, having missed out completely on all naps this morning due to his stomach playing up. Then once his stomach settled, he immediately moved on to having issues with his teeth, so he is way overdue a sleep and has big bags under his eyes. Oh boy, teething is fun. So obviously, it’s time for another post about teething. This time with a focus on the history of teething (or rather, the history of how humans have thought about teething) through the ages…

The Fascinating History Of Teething

The Jaws Of Death

Did you know that in the past, teething was often actually considered to be a cause of death? In fact, in 1842 in London, almost 5% of deaths of children under one year old were registered as being due to teething. This was probably due to the fact that children died at the age when they were teething, and doctors didn’t understand the actual cause of death. Children who are teething often have an elevated temperature, which is not actually a fever, but again in the past fever was considered to be a part of teething – as were fits, convulsions and diarrhoea. These beliefs go back to Hippocrates in Ancient Greece.

This all seems pretty strange to us now, when teething is regarded as an unpleasant experience for babies, but hardly a serious condition.

The History of Teething Treatments – Flossed in Time…

Poor teething babies in the past probably weren’t helped by the range of “treatments” used to help with their pain. Here are a few of my personal favourites (seriously don’t try this at home, although if I really have to say that then god help us all):

  • In 117 AD, Soranus of Ephesus suggested using a hare’s brain to ease teething pain (you rub it onto the gums, obviously)
  • In 1545 the English doctor, Thomas Phaire, advised hanging red coral around the child’s neck to prevent teething pain. It also had the handy side effect of helping the child to “resisteth the force of lightening“… So that’s good.
  • In 1575 the French army surgeon Ambroise Pare advised lancing (cutting) the child’s gums, an idea which proved very popular right through to the nineteenth century. In fact, in 1850 Francis Condie even wrote of a case where a dead child was supposedly revived by having his gums lanced. Hmm. Not sure that one would have stood up to a peer review process…

Hmm. I think I’ll stick with Little Man’s teething monkey. Although admittedly, it doesn’t give him the power to resist lightening (as far as I know, I’ll check the box).

Telling The Tooth

Humans aren’t the only animals who have trouble teething. Other primates and mammals in general also have baby teeth (also known as milk teeth) which are then replaced by adult teeth. In fact, elephants and walruses which grow tusks (basically just massively overgrown teeth) apparently also experience pain when their tusks start growing in, and try to rub them on things just as a baby tries to bite when it’s teething. Which sounds adorable.

It’s a strange thought that parents throughout the ages have all had to deal with teething. And given the crazy remedies that have been suggested throughout history, we’ve all wished it was easier to soothe our teething babies. Little Man still has so many teeth left to go, and everyone has their own opinion about which teeth are the worst to cut – I can’t exactly say I’m looking forward to it!