Light Exposure during Pregnancy and Baby’s Eye Development



It seems like everything you do during pregnancy, every choice you make, has the potential to impact your baby in one way or another. It’s true when it comes to the food you eat, the activities in which you engage and even the music that you listen to. According to some new pregnancy research, the amount of light that your baby is exposed to while still in your uterus may impact how her eyes develop.


Research by scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UCSF provides some new understanding of how exactly a baby’s eyes develop, and some of the potential underlying causes of ocular disease.


Here’s what they discovered, in summary:


  • There is a pathway in the fetus’ eye development that responds to light.
  • This pathway controls the way the baby’s retinal neurons develop.
  • Based on this development, the way the blood vessels in the eye may actually be impacted.
  • Several of the major eye diseases experienced by infants and adults are related to vascular disease.


Prior to this research, scientists discovered that some of the stages of development in the eye occur after birth. This led to the assumption that, if light indeed played any role in how the eye developed, it only happened after birth.


This new research showed that activating this light-response pathway has to happen during pregnancy in order to produce a healthy eye. In particular, a specific amount of light photons have to enter the mother’s body late in gestation.


These photons activate a certain protein in the body of the fetus, rather than in the mother. That protein is critical in helping develop both neurons in the eye as well as vascular development in the eye.


The experiments and research involved mice – there are no human studies in this area at the moment. However, in similar kinds of research, the data has been useful in helping to determine exactly how a human fetus develops, as well.


It’s a little too early to tell what kinds of activity a mother-to-be might engage in to encourage this eye development, but it’s not hard to imagine “baby lamps” designed to help stimulate the light-response pathways in your baby in the near future.


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