It may be one of the briefest and most subtle of reflexes in the human body, but the tenth of a second that your eyes spend blinking is crucial for your ocular health. That tiny moment of time is all that’s needed to clear away dust particles and coat the surface of your eye with a mixture of oils and mucous secretions that prevents your eyes from becoming dehydrated.
In addition to foreign bodies, blinking also protects your eyes from excessively bright light and other harmful stimuli. And as you’re blinking, your brain is working in tandem with your eyes to keep the world around you looking normal. For the short period of time that your eyes are shut, the portions of the brain that would otherwise notice that the lights have gone out become deactivated.
Let's start by figuring out what is normal for adults. Over the course of an average day, you’ll blink around 15 times every minute. Of course this varies according to your environment — in a smoky or dusty location, you may blink much more than this as your eyelids work to protect the surface of your eyes from environmental irritants.
So what about babies, then? Many studies have shown that babies and infants blink far less frequently than adults — perhaps only a few times a minute, and possibly as little as once a minute. The average appears to be 2 or 3 times a minute according to some researchers.
There’s still a lot about blinking that isn’t well understood, but research scientists have proposed a number of theories to account for the difference in blinking activity between infants and adults. Since blinking appears to contribute to lubrication of the eye, some doctors suggest that babies blink less because their smaller eyes are less vulnerable to dehydration.
Other scientists say that babies and infants blink less because they are actively consuming visual stimuli in the world around them. This is similar to what is sometimes observed in adults who are completely occupied by a visually-demanding task, like computer work.
Whatever the case, it’s a completely normal part of development for babies and infants to blink less frequently than adults, and usually no cause for concern on the part of parents or caregivers.
Of course, sometimes you find that you have the opposite problem with your baby: he or she seems to be blinking a little too often! Boys blink more than girls do, with around a 2:1 ratio. It may seem strange, but while one set of parents is worrying whether their baby is blinking enough, another is getting anxious about their infant blinking too frequently. So, what should you do if it looks like your little one is going into a blinking frenzy?
In most cases, you don't need to do anything! An increase in blinking is usually just a sign that your bundle of joy is experimenting with their vision.
Your baby is insatiably curious about the outside world and is really interested in how things look or change in appearance. In this experimental vein, your child is simply fascinated by how the outside world can differ in appearance as a result of how much they open or close their eyes. When this curiosity is at a peak, you may notice your baby opening their eyes widely and closing them firmly... and everything in between! You can expect this to continue until the novelty wears thin and your little one moves on to their next source of fascination. And unless there are other symptoms to be concerned about, you needn’t worry about the health of your baby’s eyes.
So, when should you seek the advice of a medical professional? Make an appointment with your doctor if blinking or squinting are accompanied by unusual redness or teariness, or an excessive sensitivity to normal daylight. Remember, of course, that very bright sunlight will cause normal blinking and/or squinting, whether in an adult or child. If your baby spends a lot of time out in the sun, their sensitive eyes need the protection of sunglasses just as much as you do!
You can put this down to curiosity, too! Starting at around 2 months of age, a child will start to take greater interest in the look of things around them. By this stage of development, the brain and eyes have advanced to the point that your little one can see things that are further away and perceive greater detail than ever before. And he or she is desperate to try out these new-found skills!
Among the first things you’ll notice as a parent or carer is how fixated your baby can be on your face. At 2–3 months old, an infant will hold your gaze obsessively and only break it when you look or move away. In the same way, a baby at this stage of development can become very focused on their own hands. And this makes perfect sense, since the hands are always available for inspection!
It may seem like your 2-month-old is just passively staring at their hands, but in reality, they’re actively working on their hand-eye coordination. And by the time they’re grasping, pushing, and pulling with their hands at around 3 months of age, they’ll be much more interested in using their hands than just looking at them!