All About Your Baby's Eye Color

Close up of baby's eye
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New parents often wonder what color their baby's eyes will be when they are born. Predicting a baby's eye color is not as easy as it seems. Ultimately, eye color depends on the genetic material that each parent contributes and how those genes mix and match together.

How Eyes Get Their Color

Most light-skinned babies are born with grayish-blue eyes, while most darker-skinned babies are born with dark brown eyes. But this color can change once the baby's eyes are exposed to light outside of the womb because the iris (the colored ring around the black pupil) has color-producing cells in it.

Usually, this color-changing process takes around six months. However, sometimes eye color continues to change until the age of three. About 10% of babies will continue to experience changes in their eye color through adulthood.

Melanin

Eye color is determined by melanocytes, which are cells that secrete the protein melanin. Melanin is what influences skin, hair, and eye color. The iris contains melanocytes, and these cells respond to light by increasing melanin production, usually over the first year of life.

Depending on how much melanin is secreted, your baby's eye color may slowly begin to change after birth. If your baby has blue eyes, their melanocytes are secreting only a little melanin. If they secrete just a little bit more, your baby's eyes will look green or hazel. If your baby has brown eyes, the melanocytes are secreting a lot of melanin.

Genetics

There are as many as 16 different genes involved in determining eye color, but the two most common are the OCA2 and HERC2 alleles. These genes control for brown or blue and green or hazel.

For years, brown eye color was considered the "dominant" trait, and blue eye color was considered the "recessive" trait. But today, we know that determining eye color is not that simple because eye color is not influenced by just one or two genes.

Ultimately, your baby's exact eye color will depend on the combination of these 16 genes that they inherit from both of their parents. This is why, though rare, two parents with brown eyes can have a baby with blue eyes.

Eye Color Concerns

Sometimes children are born with irises that do not match in color. This condition, known as heterochromia, is typically present at birth (where is it called congenital heterochromia).

But heterochromia can also result from a health condition or trauma. For example, Horner's syndrome, which is a disruption of the nerve pathway from the brain to one side of the face and eye, can cause unexpected changes in eye color.

Waardenburg syndrome is a group of genetic conditions that can also cause changes in eye coloring. Children with this condition often have very pale blue eyes, have one blue eye and one brown eye, or have one eye that segments into two different colors.

If you notice any unusual appearance in your baby's eye color, contact your pediatrician. They may refer you to an ophthalmologist.

Predicting Eye Color

Because there is still a lot that is not understood about the interplay among genes and their role in determining eye color, it is hard to make predictions about what shade your baby's eyes will end up being. But there are some probabilities that are worth noting:

  • Two blue-eyed parents: There is a high probability that the baby will have blue eyes, but this isn't guaranteed.
  • Two brown-eyed parents: Odds are that the baby will have brown eyes, but if either or both parents have family members with blue or lighter-shade eyes, there is a chance that the baby could have an eye color other than brown.
  • One blue-eyed parent, one brown-eyed parent: There is about a 50/50 chance that the child will have blue eyes.
  • One or both parents with green or hazel eyes: The baby could have green or hazel eyes, but it is difficult to know for sure.

Generally, changes in eye color go from light to dark. So if your child initially has blue eyes, their color may turn green, hazel, or brown. But if your baby is born with brown eyes, it is unlikely that they are going to become blue.

It is impossible to predict a baby's eye color just by looking at the parents' eyes. The process is much more complicated than that.

Eye Color and Light Sensitivity

People with blue, grey, or green eyes tend to be more light-sensitive than people with brown or black eyes. In fact, people with lighter eyes often experience photophobia, or light sensitivity, causing them to squint in sunlight or feel fatigued after sitting under fluorescent lights for a while.

This sensitivity is due to the fact that people with light eyes have less pigmentation in multiple layers of their eyes. As a result, they are unable to block out the effects of bright lights or sunlight. With this in mind, parents should keep an eye on their kids when they are outside and look for signs that their child may need a break from the sunlight. Regardless of your baby's eye color, it is best to protect their eyes when outside with sunglasses that offer UV protection.

Choose sunglasses that include both UVB and UVA protection in order to block both forms of ultraviolet lights and keep your baby's eyes safe.

Keep Your Baby's Eyes Safe

Your baby's eyes are sensitive, so you'll want to make sure you take care to keep your baby's eyes clean and protected from injury. First, during the initial months after birth, you may notice a slight discharge from your baby's eyes. Carefully clean away this discharge with a warm cotton ball when you are bathing them. You want to avoid constantly wiping your baby's eyes with a tissue or washcloth.

Second, be careful about what you allow your baby to play with. Babies have very little muscle control, so it is not uncommon for them to poke themselves in the eye. In fact, unintentional eye injuries are common even in infancy and, in some cases, can lead to permanent vision loss. Instead, give your baby safe, age-appropriate toys.

Finally, you'll want to pay attention to your baby's eye alignment. While it is natural for a little squinting or misalignment to exist in the first few months, if it continues past the age of three months, or if their eyes seem shaky in any way, talk to your pediatrician. They may refer you to an ophthalmologist.

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