Baby Aria is approaching her first birthday. In her first twelve months of life, Aria’s eye color has changed three different times. Her mother has vibrant green eyes and her father’s eyes have always been dark brown, so why was she born with bright blue eyes that changed slowly to slate-gray and finally to a happy hazel?
Aria, like nearly half of the babies born in the US, is Caucasian. With light skin, light hair and light eyes, she was born with low levels of melanin, or pigmentation. Once she entered the world, the natural light boosted the melanin levels in her irises and a color change slowly began to occur.
Let’s take a closer look at this amazing process.
What Is Melanin?
Melanin is the dark pigment occurring in the hair and the iris of the eye. Melanin is responsible for tanning, freckling, and changing of hair and eye color. Caucasian babies are born with hardly any melanin, resulting in light blue eyes and cream-colored skin. The more the baby is exposed to sunlight, the more melanin levels will rise, resulting in the changing of eye, hair and even skin color.
It needs to be noted that the only “color” melanin (or pigment) has, is brown. There is no such thing as green, blue, hazel or grey pigmentation. These colors are simply determined by the amount of melanin in the body. The more melanin a blue-eyed baby has, the more brown is flecked through the blue, making the color slightly darker, perhaps greener. Add more melanin and the eyes will change again, maybe into a rich hazel. Add more melanin and those hazel eyes might transition into a mossy brown; and so on and so fourth.
On the other hand, however, are babies with Asian, Hispanic or African-American parents. These babies are typically born with pre-determined, high levels of melanin, producing dark features like tan skin, deep brown eyes and ebony hair. Because the pigment is already present, these features are likely to go unchanged.
When Will My Baby's Eye Color Change?
Though some babies’ eye color changes rapidly with the onset of melanin, most infants undergo significant changes between six and nine months of age. This phenomenal occurrence happens once the iris has stored enough pigment to influence subtle changes like blue to grey, green to hazel, hazel to brown and so on.
Although this change will likely last through the early stages of childhood, about 10% of the population experiences changes in eye color even into adulthood.
Can I Tell What My Baby's Final Eye Color Will Be?
Though the ultimate color of your baby’s eyes is hard to detect, a good indicator of the potential color comes from the DNA makeup of you – the parents – as well as the grandparents. If you and your partner both have brown eyes, but your baby has green, it might be a genetic tie to one of your parents. However, by their first birthday, most babies will have reached their permanent eye color.
How Can I Better Care For My Baby’s Eyes?
Although you may think your baby doesn’t have eye or vision problems, the American Optometric Association recommends parents schedule their baby’s first eye assessment around 6 months of age. While infant eye issues are uncommon, it’s smart to eliminate any potential problems early on. Like many health problems, vision and eye development issues are easier to detect and correct with early treatment.
Thankfully, there are many options and programs that help to make infant eye care much more manageable. For starters, the AOA foundation manages a public health program called InfantSEE. InfantSEE is designed to ensure essential, quality care for infant’s eye and vision wellness. For zero-charge, participating optometrists complete a full eye assessment on babies between 6 and 12 months of age.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology recommend simply asking your child’s primary care physician to screen for vision problems. This is typically included in a well-child visit and, in the event a problem were to become evident, a visit to a practicing optometrist would then be necessary.
Lastly, observing your baby’s eyes between checkups can further ensure healthy vision. Know your family’s vision history; have there been genetic issues in the past? If so, make sure to notify your baby’s physician. Also, regularly test your child’s vision by having him or her focus on a certain object as you move it to different positions (2-3 months). It may even be necessary to make regular visits to an eye doctor. No matter what you decide, make sure your baby’s eyelids aren’t droopy, goopy or uneven and keep an eye out for sensitivity to foods, light, etc.
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