All About Your Baby's Eye Color

baby eyes

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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, the color depends on the genetic material that each parent contributes and how those genes mix and match together. Here is what to know about how that works.

How Eyes Get Their Color

Most light-skinned babies are born with grayish-blue eyes, while darker-skinned babies are born with dark brown eyes. However, this color can change once the baby's eyes begin to be exposed to light outside the womb because the iris—or 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 where it is needed. Melanin is the same thing that influences skin color. The iris has melanocytes in it and these cells respond to light after birth by increasing melanin production, usually over the first year of life.

Depending on how much melanin is secreted, your baby's eye color will begin to change. For example, if your baby has blue eyes, the 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 eye color, but the two most common are the OCA2 and HERC2 alleles.These 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—16 play a role to varying degrees.

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

Eye Color Concerns

Sometimes children are born with irises that do not match in color. Typically, this condition, known as heterochromia, is present at birth. This is known as congenital heterochromia.

However, it can result from another condition or trauma too. 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 cause changes in eye coloring, as well as hearing loss. 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 to your baby's eye color, you will want to 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: The baby will likely 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 different colored eyes.
  • One blue-eyed parent, one brown-eyed parent: There is about a 50/50 chance, 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 suffer from photophobia, or light sensitivity, causing them to squint in sunlight or feel fatigued after sitting under fluorescent lights for a while.

This sensitivity is caused because people with light eyes have less pigmentation in multiple layers of the eye. 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 harsh 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 a few steps to keep your baby's eyes clean and protected from injury. First, during the initial months after birth, you will 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 the eyes seem shaky in any way, talk to your pediatrician. They may refer you to an ophthalmologist.

A Word from Verywell

No matter what color your baby's eyes turn out to be, they will be beautiful and unique. While it is normal to hope your baby will have a specific eye color one day, once they arrive, you will gaze into those murky little eyes and think that they are the most beautiful shade you have ever seen. Your desire for a certain hue will slip right out the window.

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