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Dr Anna Maw
Consultant pediatrician at Cambridge University NHS Trust in the UK. A child doctor specializing in brain development and neurology. She has three children.
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Stage 4 – 9 months

Baby's eye contact

Sharing smiles and eye contact with your baby is such a joyful part of parenting that it really concerns mums and dads if they feel their baby is avoiding eye contact. This can sometimes be due to a baby feeling overstimulated. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
In Short
Newborns love looking at faces and generally prefer to look at their parents’ faces compared to other things.

Eye contact is an important part of a baby’s social development and non-verbal communication.

Babies sometimes avoid eye contact when they are tired or over stimulated.

Why is eye contact important?

Eye contact is a really fundamental part of human interaction. In fact, some psychologists have suggested that the reason we (and no other animals) have big whites around our eyes is that eye contact and seeing where other people are looking was such an important advantage that we developed bright eye whites so we can see if a person is looking at us or at something in particular from metres away. This is particularly important for babies and children as they often gauge new situations by seeing how their mum and dad is reacting. So babies generally look intently at their parents’ faces.

Newborns prefer to look at faces

In the early days with your newborn, they can only focus around 30 centimetres away which corresponds with the distance to their parents’ face, as they are cradled in their arms or as they are feeding. In this intimate space, newborn babies slowly control and focus their eyes and babies prefer to look at faces over anything else. Furthermore, babies prefer their parents’ faces to the faces of strangers. This is perhaps why it can seem unusual and even upsetting if you feel that your baby avoids making eye contact.

Overstimulated or tired babies avoid eye contact

The first thing to say is that if babies are overstimulated they will often avoid eye contact as a signal that they are a bit overwhelmed. On these occasions, you should respect your baby’s signals and let them calm down either by having a nap or by gently holding them without talking or intensely making eye contact. However, if you have any concerns, talk to your health visitor or doctor.

Watch our video for tips on talking and communicating with your baby.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.