Baby's First Eye Exam


by By Amber Willis /

Posted on March 18, 2009 at 9:20 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:52 PM

About the Author

Amber Willis is an editor with myRegence .com. She and her husband welcomed their first child, Henry, in January 2008. She can be found navigating the murky waters of new parenthood in Portland, Ore.

Over the years I've seen babies in glasses and wondered how in the world they figured out the baby's prescription, much less that the child needed glasses. How would a parent even know to take their baby to the eye doctor? However, I just discovered that according to American Optometric Association, all babies are supposed to be seen by an eye doctor in the first year--usually when they're 6 months old.

Excuse me? When I heard this, my son Henry was already running about seven months late for the appointment. And I wear glasses--thick suckers that correct terrible vision--so I quickly called for an appointment with my optometrist (after verifying that she was qualified to see an infant, of course).

We headed in on a Saturday and I sat in the familiar exam chair in the familiar darkened room, but this time with a wiggly baby on my lap. The optometrist had toys at the ready and talked me through everything she was doing. She asked me a battery of questions about my family's vision history (bad), my husband's family history (good), shined lights in his eyes, put a little computer up to his face (this, it turns out, is how they figure out their prescription if they need glasses), and even put him (briefly--he wanted no part of it) in a baby pirate eye patch. I asked a million questions, yet I retained very little information since I was so busy trying to make Henry look where he was supposed to.

Then the doctor told me she was going to dilate Henry's eyes with a diluted solution. What? Why? So she could look in the back and assess the physical health of his eyes. I hate having my eyes dilated and felt bad for Henry to have to go through it on such a sunny day. But I consented, and it all checked out. I took Henry, with a clean bill of eye health, and put him back in his stroller wearing ridiculous plastic shades that made him look like a little blind professor in a bad movie.

It occurred to me (after the fact, of course) to ask my pediatrician about the exam, and she said it wasn't really necessary, since she screens for eye health at Henry's well-baby visits. It seems that the first year screening is recommend by the  , but the  says that the baby's primary doctor should be the one to screen for vision problems.

All in all, I'm glad I did it. Considering my family's history of bad vision, it was nice to know my son had received a thorough eye exam and had been given the stamp of good age-appropriate vision and eye health.

And because good vision is critical to his development and his learning, I will continue to see an optometrist for screenings throughout his childhood. I don't want him to be like me as a child: trying to explain to parents and teachers that I struggled in school not because I was spaced out or lazy, but because I couldn't see the chalk board.

My own clear vision finally arrived when I got glasses in the fourth grade. Of course, it came complete with teasing comments about having four eyes, insecurity about my appearance, and years of awkward contact lens struggles, but it was worth it to see where I was going. I must also admit that when I said something about Henry maybe needing glasses one day, both my husband and I sat silently for a second and realized we were each trying to picture his beautiful blue eyes hidden behind plastic frames. How vain is that?

But it's true--I hope we never have to find out what he looks like in glasses. I hope Henry has his father's eyesight. And I will do all I can to make sure that if he doesn't, his vision is corrected sooner rather than later.

Come to think of it, my husband has never been to an eye doctor (and he's nearing 40), so maybe he just thinks he has good vision. Really, though, that's a whole other story.