Sometimes parents notice their newborn’s eyes look a little cross-eyed in the beginning.
Yes, it is normal for a newborn’s eyes to wander or cross occasionally during the first few months of life. Their muscles are strengthening and their eyes are learning to focus. By the time a baby is 4–6 months old, their eyes usually straighten out.
In honor of Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, celebrated in August, I wanted to share our story.
This is an awareness campaign I can personally get behind, as my son was diagnosed with strabismus (the medical term for cross-eyed) when he was just two years old.
Children may not always understand when their eyes aren’t healthy. Poor eyesight can lead to cognitive and physical development issues. This means as parents, we need to be proactive about eye health and vision early on.
For my son, there were signs that he was having difficulties with his vision, but we just didn’t know at the time. As an infant and into his early childhood he seemed to struggle with hand and eye coordination. We thought he was just a little clumsy and uncoordinated. Since neither myself nor his father are exactly graceful, we thought it was cute. We figured he’d grow out of it, so didn’t really see a cause for concern.
After 4-6 months a baby’s eyes should be aligned and not crossed.
If one or both eyes continue to wander in, out, up, or down — even once in a while — it may be due to strabismus. This misalignment affects only about 4% of children. If your child is having issues after 4 months of age, consider speaking to your pediatrician.
My son didn’t have proper muscle development in his eyes, specifically his left eye. We started to notice the way his eyes changed when he was trying to focus on things. It was a gradual change, so we didn’t recognize it immediately. However, when looking back at pictures the turning in of his eye is quite evident.
After speaking to our pediatrician about our concerns, he suggested we see a specialist. So, we made an appointment to see a pediatric ophthalmologist, or eye surgeon. On the first visit, my son was diagnosed with strabismus and we learned we would need to take action right away.
The first course of action was eye patching.
The doctor wanted us to patch his stronger eye, allowing his weaker eye to gain strength and function. We were given a few suggestions for disposable eye patches with a heads up that many children pull at these adhesive patches. I knew they were helpful, so it was something we would have to work at. Although it was a struggle at first, the patching definitely was beneficial. We even found some with cute designs to help him feel better about wearing the eye patch.
The second step was prescription glasses.
I was very concerned about how he would respond to glasses at two years old. I asked a lot of questions, and did a lot of research to see what worked for other families with children his age wearing glasses. As a result, I found Modern Optics in St. Petersburg Beach, that specializes in glasses for children. They offered flexible and soft frames with a removable strap to help keep them in place. They had outstanding reviews. It sounded like a great option, and it was.
I will never forget the look on my son’s face the first time he looked through his glasses. All of my fears that he would struggle to adapt were diminished when we slid them on. It was as if he was seeing the world in a brand new way. He didn’t pull or tug on the glasses at all. He just looked around and smiled for what seemed like an entire day.
We had a follow up appointment a few weeks later, with the pediatric opthamologist. He explained that although the methods we were using were creating some improvement, things simply were not improving quickly enough. According to the surgeon, my son’s optic nerve was shutting down due to lack of use caused by his muscle developmental issue. If left untreated, it could lead to permanent blindness in the eye.
We had no choice but to prepare for surgery.
I will share this surgery story in a future blog, as I think my experience could help other mothers facing a similar situation.
Although the thought of my child having surgery was scary, I knew it was necessary. The surgery was successful and he recovered quickly, which was most important. During the procedure, the surgeon noted there was a muscle developmental deficiency in his right eye as well, so he corrected this at the same time. This whole process ultimately saved my son’s vision in his left eye. There is no guarantee that he will not need surgery again at some point in his life. He will also need to wear corrective lenses for the rest of his life, but he did not lose his sight to blindness.
Below I share some of the signs to look out for, so you have a better chance of catching vision concerns sooner rather than later.
It may be time to speak to your pediatrician if your 4 month old or older baby struggles with:
- Following an object with their eyes
- Maintaining eye contact with you
- Straining to see
- Has misaligned eyes (strabismus)
In children of all ages, you may want to speak to their doctor if they experience the following:
- Oversensitivity to light
- Misalignment of the eyes
- Redness that lingers several days before resolving
- Discomfort or pain reported by your child
Since it’s not always possible for children to understand when their eyes aren’t healthy, parents should look for clues that they may be having vision issues. It is recommended to schedule regular eye screenings for your child which can be done at your annual wellness check-ups. These screenings may help to prevent permanent damage to your child’s eyes. We schedule ours every August for Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month!