All About Your Baby's Eye Color

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Often the first thing new parents do when a baby is born is to look into their child's eyes and speculate on their color. In fact, eye color is the one genetic feature that captivates parents' attention and curiosity more than anything else. They wonder, "will baby's eyes be brown, blue, green, hazel, or grey?" Ultimately, the color of a baby's eyes depends on the genetic material that each parent contributes. Just keep in mind though that the parents' genes can mix and match in many different ways. So, predicting baby's eye color is not as easy as it seems.

How Eye Color Forms

Most Caucasian babies are born with grayish-blue eyes, while many African-American, Asian and Hispanic babies are born with brown or dark brown eyes. Sometimes, their eyes may even look black. But parents should not get too attached to this color because it will change once light hits the color-producing cells in the iris. The iris is the part of the eye behind the cornea that controls the size of the pupil to let light in.

Usually, this color-changing process can take up to six months before a baby's eye color has stabilized, but eye color can continue to change until around age three in some kids and for a rare few it may continue to change into adulthood.

The Role of Melanin

Generally speaking, eye color is determined by melanocytes, which are cells whose role is to secrete the protein melanin where it is needed. Over time, if your baby has blue eyes, the melanocytes are secreting only a little melanin. If they secrete just a little bit more, baby's eyes will look green or hazel. And, if your baby has brown eyes, the melanocytes are secreting a lot of melanin.

Your Baby's Genetics

How much the melanocytes produce is influenced by as many as 15 genes according to scientists, two of which are mostly understood by how a child's eye color develops. The two most understood genes come in two forms, or alleles - one that has brown and blue versions and one that has blue and green versions. Consequently, a baby's eye color will depend on the combination of alleles that they inherit from their parents. The other eye colors such as grey, hazel, violet and multiple other combinations are not fully understood at this point.

Still, based on what is known right now, there are some general guidelines for how a baby's eye color comes to be. Take for instance if both parents have dark eyes, the chances are high that the baby will have dark eyes as well since the brown allele is dominant. However, when there are blue eyes on both sides of the family, it is not unheard of for two brown-eyed parents to have a child with blue eyes.

For years, brown eye color was considered the "dominant" trait and blue eye color was considered the "recessive" trait. But modern science is beginning to show that determining eye color is not that simple. Eye color is not influenced by one or two genes but instead is determined by multiple genes working together.

For this reason, it is not unheard of for kids to have completely different eye colors than either of their parents. So, while it is rare for two parents with blue eyes to have a child with brown eyes, it is not unheard of. This phenomenon occurs because eye color is polygenic, or is influenced by multiple genes working together to determine the eye's hue.

Predicting Your Baby's 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 infallible predictions about what shade your baby's eyes will end up being. But there are some probabilities that are worth noting. Here is a general overview of some common scenarios regarding eye color:

  • If both parents have blue eyes, the odds are significantly higher that the baby will also have blue eyes. Just remember though, that this does not happen every single time.
  • Likewise, when both parents have brown eyes, the likelihood of the baby having brown eyes is very high. But, there are exceptions to this rule as well especially if a grandparent on both sides of the family has blue eyes. Then, it is possible that the parents will pass along the genetic information needed for blue eyes.
  • Meanwhile, if one parent has brown eyes and one parent has blue eyes, there is about a 50/50 chance, the child will have blue eyes.

It is important to remember that the changes in eye color typically go from light to dark. So if your child initially has blue eyes, their color may turn to green, hazel or brown. In other words, if a baby is born with brown eyes, it is highly unlikely that they are going to become blue. Additionally, about 10 percent of babies will continue to experience changes in their eye color through adulthood.

Overall, it is important to remember that 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.

Are Brown Eyes "Stronger" Than Blue Eyes?

According to doctors, 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 by the fact that people with light eyes have less pigmentation in multiple layers of the eye than those with darker 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 outside and look for possibilities that their eyes are getting fatigued or that they may need a break from the harsh sunlight.

Of course, regardless of your baby's eye color, it is best to protect their eyes when outside with sunglasses. Look for child-size 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 Baby's Eyes Safe

Remember, your baby's eyes are sensitive. So, you want to make sure you take a few steps to keep your baby's eyes safe. 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 him or her. 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 brightly colored baby toys that stimulate vision.

And finally, you want to be sure you 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, but if it continues into three months of age, or if the eyes seem shaky in any way, talk to your pediatrician. They may refer you to an ophthalmologist.

Other Considerations

Sometimes children are born with irises that do not match in color. Typically, this condition, known as heterochromia, is present at birth or as a result of another condition or a trauma of some sort. In children born with heterochromia, the condition is considered congenital heterochromia.

In others, the condition may be caused by a trauma or another condition. One example is Horner's Syndrome, which is a disruption of the nerve pathway from the brain to one side of the face and eye. If you notice any unusual appearance to your baby's eye color, you will want to contact your pediatrician who 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 to her or him. While you may hope your baby will have a specific eye color one day, once he or she arrives, you will gaze into those murky little eyes and think they are the most beautiful shade you have ever seen. And, your desire for a certain hue will slip right out the window.

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Article Sources
  • Turbert, David. "What Is Heterochromia?" American Academy of Ophthalmology, February 3, 2017. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-heterochromia

  • "Myth or Fact: People with Light Eyes are More Sensitive to Sunlight?" Duke Health, Duke University. https://www.dukehealth.org/blog/myth-or-fact-people-light-eyes-are-more-sensitive-sunlight