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.
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.
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.