Many people are under the misconception that babies are colour blind at birth. This is not the case – babies’ eyes are physically capable at birth but their little brains are not yet ready to process all of the visual input they receive. After the relatively calm and consistent view from the womb there is a lot in the outside world for them to take in.
When your baby comes into the world they can focus usually only as far as your face when you hold them; they can detect light, shapes, and movement, but your face is the most fascinating thing they see. After your face, the next most interesting things to look at are high contrast patterns which is why many mobiles and cot toys are black, red and white, with chequered patterns.
By two months your baby can now process more colours but has difficulty differentiating between similar tones such red, orange and maroon. This is why black and white patterned objects are still the favourite. However, black and white might not be your first preference for the nursery, particularly if you don’t feel like redecorating at six months!
Between two and five months, your baby will work on distinguishing more colours and will show a preference for bright, primary colours and more detailed designs. Most toys for this age group are in bright, bold primary colours.
By eight months your baby can now distinguish most pastels as well, which is commonly the first choice for nursery décor, however these can really only be appreciated by you and your visitors until your baby reaches this age.
Before you decorate, there are a few questions to ask. Are you decorating to match the general décor of your home, or to match a theme you have chosen? Are you decorating to match the gender of your baby, or will your nursery become the nursery for your next little one and therefore needs to be a gender-neutral colour theme? Do you want a stimulating environment with lots of bright colours, or a more subtle and calming environment with lots of pastels?
You need to consider if this room is going to be baby’s permanent room as they grow from baby to toddler to school-aged. If you plan on having the room grow with your child, it is often easier to paint the room in a neutral colour and decorate with accessories and removable decals. A mobile above the cot that has bold patterns is sure to keep their attention from an early age and does not dictate the overall décor of the room. Posters and decals within baby’s line of vision are more interesting to them if they are bright, bold primary colours and can easily be updated to more appropriate items as they develop and their interests change. If your baby will move out for a sibling later on, you might want a new theme for the new baby, so again removable decals and posters on a neutral backdrop can save you having to do a total revamp later on. (Painting with a busy toddler at your feet is not recommended!)
If you are decorating for gender, remember there is no 100 per cent guarantee that the gender is correct. A baby-blue room with a bright red and green truck mural is wonderful, but if little Sam comes home Samantha, you might have to re-paint. My recommendation is to play it safe – there are many gender-neutral themes which can offer calming pastels or stimulating brights, and can easily be themed more gender-specific once you are home.