Infants Love These Black-and-White Baby Toys. Here’s Why.

It's actually not a marketing gimmick. An ophthalmologist explains how baby vision works.

by Emily Kelleher
Originally Published: 
a black teething toy shaped like a whale, set against a bright-yellow background, one of our picks f...

Newborn babies have pretty basic needs: to be fed, held, comforted, clothed, and have their diaper changed a few dozen times a day. They don’t need much in the way of entertainment. In fact, babies have very limited vision during the first few months of life, so a parent’s cooing and silly faces can usually do the trick. Elaborate toys aren’t useful just yet, but those with high-contrast, black-and-white images, which cater to the way babies’ eyes work, can be useful in strengthening their vision and engaging their minds.

Thanks to their underdeveloped retinas, babies under the age of 3 months see only in shades of black and white, and can only really focus on objects about 8–10 inches away, says Dr. Dagny Zhu, a cornea, cataract, and refractive surgeon, and medical director and partner at Lasik Nvision Eye Centers. In terms of the eye chart used to measure adult vision, Zhu says, “They can probably see a fuzzy big E,” the biggest letter on the chart.

In order to make out their surroundings, babies focus on the edges of objects, where the contrast is greatest, says Zhu. Of all the color combinations, black and white have the highest levels of contrast, so black and white images are particularly easy for babies to see. Plenty of toy companies have capitalized on this, creating black-and-white baby toys. These kinds of high-contrast books and toys are easy for babies to identify, and Zhu says they can be useful in the first few weeks of life. But by two or three months of age, it’s important to expose them to colors, too, since it’s then that they start to see and develop a preference for color. When using these high-contrast black-and-white toys, or any others, Zhu says parents should hold them 8–10 inches from their infant’s face.

For those first few months of life, toys with black-and-white images are among the few toys that are of any use. These are some of the best.

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