Can Babies See In The Womb?

With each of my babies, I've had moments of spontaneously shrieking to my husband things like, "Can you believe he has fingernails already?" Fetal development is just fascinating, and perhaps there's no more intriguing development than that of the five senses. Take sight, for example. You know your baby is developing eyes in there, but can babies see in the womb? And if so, what exactly do they see? I mean, they come out of the world blinking in fright at all of those people and lights. Is it because they're used to the environment they've been in, or because they're seeing for the first time?

Let's start with the basics of fetal eye development. According to an article in 20/20, the human eye begins to develop at only 17 days gestation. By week 28, eyeballs are formed and your baby is able to open and close his eyelids. Yet it doesn't end there — far from it. Amazingly, even after nine months of development, the eye is still not mature at birth, and the process continues until well into your child's second year. Even still, your baby clearly has some vision by the time of his birth, so how much does he have in the womb? The truth is, science is still not sure.

Camila Cornell, writing for Today's Parent, suggested that it must be remembered that the baby is surrounded by amniotic fluid and likens the womb to a dark cave. "It’s possible that a bright light might filter through to the womb but, to the infant, it probably means the difference between dim and dimmer."

Which makes sense. Parenting noted a similar observation — babies eyes are actually sealed shut until month seven of pregnancy, but after then, it's just too dark for them to see anything in the womb. Apparently, it's true that if you shine a bright light directly at your belly, the baby may turn away from it. But that doesn't mean they can really "see" anything in there; it just means they noticed a bright spot in the darkness.

Science can take the world a long way, but still only so far — there are some things you may just never know. The visual experience of a baby in the womb might always be part mystery to the human race, and honestly, maybe that's the way it should be.