If you've been a mom for longer than three minutes, you've probably noticed that your baby stares at the ceiling an awful lot. It's borderline creepy — what do they see up there? — but it can also be worrisome. Why does your baby stare at the ceiling instead of you?
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a mother of two and a neuropsychologist in New York City, tells Romper not to get too panicked. It helps to remember that babies are brand new to this world. "[Babies] enter a world full of light, sound, movement, and stimulation," Hafeez says. "There is a lot to take in. An infant’s brain is developing, absorbing, and processing their new surroundings. This is happening while their eyes are getting used to our world, and their vision is developing focus," all while also becoming accustomed to "visual and audio cues that represent safety, nourishment, and contact." Basically, it's a lot. But while it's completely normal for a new baby to stare at the ceiling, there are some things to consider if you suspect something else is up with your newest addition.
Remember, babies are often on their back, so fixating their eyes straight ahead to check out the fan, the ceiling texture, or maybe some lights is all new and completely fascinating to them. But Hafeez says that it may not be normal for a baby to stare at the ceiling after about 12 to 16 weeks. "[If] you are unable to attract the infant's attention away from the ceiling even for a short amount of time," there might be something else going on. "If they are not recognizing recurring and consistent faces like mom’s and dad’s," it might be time to consult with your pediatrician, Hafeez says.
Dr. Mary Kohn, a pediatrician with the University of Colorado Hospital, tells Romper the age difference is really the thing to think about if you're concerned. "Since babies are always developing and changing, what is normal for a newborn may be very concerning an 18-month-old." So staring at ceilings? Very normal for newborns, not so normal for older babies.
"A newborn baby can see about 6 to 9 inches [in front of them]," Kohn says. So your baby should be able to make and maintain eye contact with you by 9 weeks old. But when it comes to the ceiling specifically, there might be some contrast there that interests them, like the light fixture or a shadow. "Newborns and infants are visually attracted to stark contrast. For example, instead of looking out the window, they will fix on where the window meets the frame, where light meets dark," Kohn says.
You may even notice that your baby frequently crosses their eyes. Kohn says this is because "they are not focused on anything and their eye muscles are a bit weak." Usually this goes away by 2 to 4 months old, and can even be a reason why your child keeps looking up at the ceiling — "weakness of their extraocular muscles, the muscles that control the movement of the eyes," Kohn explains.
It's best to always check with your pediatrician right away if you suspect there may be something more serious going on with your baby. "Babies with wandering eye movements or those who never make eye contact may be blind or have very low vision," Kohn says. But these are not very common, and you shouldn't worry your baby has these issues just because they're interested in the ceiling.
For the parents who heavily rely on Dr. Google — don't. Hafeez says moms will likely get a lot of hits about autism and ADD when Googling this topic, which are conditions that cannot be diagnosed during infancy. She wants parents to know that your child can be "perfectly fine and stare at the ceiling," but if you're truly concerned, check with your pediatrician who knows your child's history and can better assess the situation.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist
Dr. Mary Kohn, University of Colorado Pediatrics
This article was originally published on