Pregnancy and birth are hard on women’s bodies. Morning sickness, muscle aches and pains, and swollen ankles are common side effects of pregnancy, but birth and pregnancy can also affect your vision.
Vision Changes for Mommy
Almost half of pregnant women will experience changes in their vision. Though these changes may be pregnancy related, they may also stem from more serious conditions. If you experience any changes in your vision during your pregnancy, you should see your optometrist right away.
Here are some vision changes you may experience during your pregnancy.
First Two Trimesters
Most women see very few changes to their vision during the first two trimesters of their pregnancy. However, if your vision does change during this period you should consult your eye doctor.
Third Trimester to Three Months Postpartum
During this period many pregnant women experience blurry vision, dry eyes, or other visual changes. Dry eyes can be caused by hormonal changes, and blurry vision may be caused by increased fluid retention in the eyes. The increased fluid causes our eyes to swell, which affects our prescription.
If you experience any changes in your vision during your pregnancy you should consult your optometrist. While the changes may be benign they may also be a symptom of a more serious condition.
Possible Hormonal & Neurological Changes
- Gestational Diabetes: Gestational diabetes is a very serious condition that affects a pregnant woman’s body in many ways. Gestational diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy, a condition that damages the blood vessels in our retinas, causing them to leak blood and other fluids. This, in turn, may cause the retinal tissue to swell, resulting in blurry or cloudy vision.
- Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH): Up to 8% of all pregnant American women experience high blood pressure during their pregnancies. This condition is called Pregnancy Induced Hypertension, or PIH. High blood pressure can harm both pregnant women and their babies if it is not managed correctly. It can affect your vision, as well as damage your kidneys or other organs. PIH can restrict blood flow to the placenta, and increase your risk of developing high blood pressure or heart disease as you age. Extremely high blood pressure is called preeclampsia.
- Preeclampsia & Eclampsia: Preeclampsia is caused by high blood pressure during pregnancy. It can cause damage to your placenta, as well as your brain, liver, and kidneys. If preeclampsia is allowed to progress it may become eclampsia, which is a serious condition that can put both mother and child at risk. Both preeclampsia and eclampsia can cause blood pressure related vision problems just like PIH. Though there is no cure for preeclampsia or eclampsia except delivery catching high blood pressure early can lower the chances of both mother and child experiencing long term effects.
- Pituitary Adenoma: A pituitary adenoma is a hormone-secreting tumor. This condition is incredibly rare but can have a negative impact on your vision. A pituitary adenoma can cause tunnel vision or a narrowing of the visual field.
Vision Related Symptoms During Pregnancy
There are several signs you can look for to determine if your pregnancy may be affecting your vision. If you experience any of these symptoms you should make an appointment to see your optometrist as soon as possible.
- Intermittent Blur: Intermittent blur refers to blurry vision that comes and goes. Many women first notice this while trying to read road signs at night. Blurry vision during pregnancy is typically caused by pregnancy-related hormones, which can alter the shape and thickness of your cornea.
- Headaches: Headaches can be caused by a variety of things, one of which is vision problems. If our eyes are having trouble focusing properly it can cause discomfort and headaches.
- Dizziness: Dizziness, or feeling faint, can be caused by a variety of factors during pregnancy. It is typically experienced during the first trimester and is typically caused either by hormones prompting your blood vessels to widen. This widening of the blood vessels can affect your vision, and inhibit your eyes from working properly.
- Auras: Auras refer to jagged flashes of light or colored lights, and may be experienced during migraines. Migraines can be caused by pregnancy hormones and are a result of dilating blood vessels in the brain.
- Double Vision: Some pregnant women may experience double vision. This can be caused due to hormonal changes altering the shape and thickness of your cornea.
- Nighttime Glare: Pregnancy-related eye and vision changes can also cause an increase in nighttime glare.
- Light Sensitivity: Pregnancy can make our eyes more sensitive to light, which can, in turn, cause eye pain or migraines.
- Eye Strain: If your pregnancy causes your corneas to change shape or thickness, or fluid retention has altered the shape of your eye, your eyes may be more susceptible to strain. If your regular prescription changes and you don’t ensure your eyeglasses match your new prescription, your eyes may be working harder to see properly.
- Flashes & Floaters (Retinal Detachment): You may experience flashes and floaters both during and after labor. Flashes and floaters can be caused by the strain of pushing during labor and appear as bright spots or streaks of light that you can’t look at directly. Floaters appear as small dots or wavy lines that shift as you look around. Though many people have a few floaters a sudden shower of flashes or floaters followed by dimming vision may be a sign of retinal detachment. Retinal detachment is a very serious condition, and if left untreated it can lead to permanent vision loss. If you experience a sudden shower of flashes or floaters either during or after labor you should alert your doctor immediately.
Some women who experience vision changes during pregnancy will find that these changes are only temporary. However, some women may find that their prescription is permanently changed as a result of their pregnancy.
Be Aware of What Goes in Your Eyes
Contact Lens Related Problems
Contact lenses can cause our eyes to become dry. Coupled with hormonal changes during pregnancy some women may find that they are unable to comfortably wear contact lenses during pregnancy.
- Reduced Lens Tolerance: Hormonal changes related to pregnancy can cause dry eye, which can be exacerbated by contact lens wear. To help ensure your eyes remain comfortable you should ensure that you have a pair of prescription eyeglasses on hand in case your contact lenses become intolerable.
- Corneal Edema: Pregnancy causes our bodies to retain more fluid. Our eyes also retain more fluid during pregnancy, particularly between the layers of our corneas. This can cause a condition called corneal edema. This can affect our ability to wear contact lenses. If you think you are experiencing a corneal edema you should remove your contact lenses and make an appointment to see your optometrist.
- Wearing Lens During Delivery: Depending on the hospital you may or may not be permitted to wear your contact lenses during your delivery. If you absolutely must wear your contact lenses speak to your optometrist about extended wear contact lenses. These specially designed lenses can be work for a week or more. However, they also carry an increased risk of eye inflammation, so you should talk to your optometrist and your obstetrician before making a decision.
- Prescription Changes Pre/Post Delivery: If you feel that your prescription has changed either during pregnancy or after your delivery you may wish to see your optometrist. If your vision is clear enough that you can function you may wish to wait to update your prescription until 3 months after your delivery. After 3 months your hormone levels should have returned to normal, and your prescription will likely have stabilized. However, if you cannot see well enough to go about your daily activities you should speak to your optometrist about updating your prescription as soon as possible.
Eye Drops – Safety Factors to Take Into Account
Most eye drops are safe to use during pregnancy. However, you may wish to avoid using dilating eye drops when you are attempting to conceive or are pregnant or nursing. While no studies have shown that dilating eye drops can harm a growing fetus these drops do have neurological effects and are therefore not recommended unless absolutely necessary.
Over-the-counter eye drops are harmless. However, some contain chemicals that can cause an allergic reaction. As such you should always consult with your optometrist before using any over-the-counter eye drops.
Laser Vision Correction & Other Eye Surgeries
You should not undergo vision correction surgery or any other types of eye surgery during pregnancy or while you are nursing. This is because both pregnancy and nursing can affect our eyes, so while the surgery will not pose any harm to you or your child the benefits may be negated. As with any surgery eye surgery carries a certain degree of risk.
Vision Changes for Infants
Your child will also experience vision changes during the weeks after birth. To help ensure your child’s eyes are developing properly there are several steps you can take.
Vision for Feti & Infants
Some research suggests that oily fishes (such as sardines or mackerel) can help your child’s vision develop in-utero. As such many doctors suggest that pregnant women consume at least one serving of fish every two weeks. Fish is an important source of DHA, a fatty acid that is important for brain development and vision development. DHA can be found in breastmilk but is not present in formula.
However, not all types of fish are safe to eat while pregnant or breastfeeding, and pregnant and nursing women should take care not to consume fish that contains high levels of mercury. You should not take any supplements, including fish oils or DHA, without first consulting your doctor.
First Eye Examination for Newborns
The American Optometric Association recommends that children undergo their first eye exam between the ages of 6 and 12 months. However, children that exhibit signs of vision problems (including unequal eyes, eye turns, one red eyelid, or mucous in one eye) should be assessed before they are 6 months old. Premature infants should have their vision assessed immediately.
Many children experience clogged tear ducts after birth. However, if a tear duct remains clogged for more than one week you should consult your doctor. Your doctor may recommend that you gently massage the skin over the tear duct or treat the tear duct with erythromycin ophthalmic ointment. You should consult your doctor before you begin any treatments.
Some children are also born with one pupil larger than the other. This is perfectly normal, and there is no reason for alarm. If your child’s pupils are different sizes you should have them assessed by a pediatric ophthalmologist, who will make sure that both pupils are reacting to light.
Children rely on their vision for a lot of their learning and development, so it is important to have any issues with eye coordination or development addressed early on.
Toys & Objects to Help With Infant Vision Development
There are a variety of toys and other objects that you can use to help your infant develop their vision.
- High contrast black and white toys are a great way to help your child develop their brain cortex.
- Swinging toys can help children follow and cross the midline. A great example of this is mobiles, and white, black, and red mobiles provide added contrast and benefit.
- Fish tanks can help your child follow multiple moving objects and experience a variety of shapes and colors.
- Screensavers, such as those that feature bouncing balls, tubes, or other varying objects are a great way to keep your child entertained and help them learn to follow moving objects.
- Potted plants offer a wide variety of stimuli. Grabbing leaves and following the movement of shaking leaves are both great ways to develop your child’s hand/eye coordination as well as teach them about visual/spatial relationships. Your child’s sense of touch is also stimulated when playing with potted plants, but be sure to ensure your child doesn’t get scratched by sharp leaves or branches.
- Bright lights, such as light fixtures and lamps, are also a great way to keep your child entertained. Hanging lamps can be gently pushed so that they sway, which can help your child learn to follow and track objects. Make sure you don’t make the lamp swing too much and do not leave your child unattended by a swinging fixture.