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Darling little baby shoes look so cute – but does your toddler really need to wear them all the time?
Experts stress that walking barefoot is actually healthier for your toddler’s feet. Shoes mold feet into unnatural shapes and this is especially a concern with babies because their feet are still pliable. Shoes can hinder baby development too. Babies that are always in shoes often walk later than those that have a chance to go barefoot because babies use their toes for balance. Consider shoes as a means of protecting your child’s feet. When he is on a safe surface, he doesn’t need them. The best policy is to save shoes for rough or dangerous surfaces and to let your toddler go without indoors.
If you are worried about baby’s feet getting cold or dirty, put him in socks or booties that fit but are not too snug, and save the fancy shoes for special occasions. Your baby’s feet are growing rapidly and shoes can warp them. While you may hear people insisting that children that go barefoot have bigger feet, the truth of the matter is that their feet are growing the way they are supposed to. It is possible to slow the growth of feet by binding them – witness the ancient Japanese foot binding custom. But who wants to cripple a child for the sake of smaller feet?
Young children’s feet grow rapidly but that doesn’t mean you should buy a size too big. Large shoes can cause young walkers to trip and fall more often, while small shoes cramp feet and can actually hinder their growth. Even tight socks or booties can interfere with foot growth. During the early years you may feel like you’re buying new shoes all the time, so the best policy is not to buy too many pairs at once. Most children only really need one pair at a time.
Many people take one look at a baby’s feet and announce that he has flat foot. During the first two or three years of your child’s life it is too early to start worrying about that. In fact, most babies’ feet look flat because they are chubby and their bones and joints are still flexible.
Another common concern for mothers of young children is bowed legs. Many children’s legs start out bowed, but straighten with time. You should mention it to your doctor, but be wary of suggestions that your child needs surgical intervention.
Other children are pigeon toed, a condition where their toes turn inward. Again, this problem usually resolves itself without intervention, but might be worth a consultation with your pediatrician. Don’t try to treat this condition yourself with special boots or corrective devices.
- Make sure they fit. When buying new shoes, the toe of the shoe should be about 2 cm (approximately the width of your thumb) longer than the longest toe, but the shoes shouldn’t be loose enough so that they slip off the heel when the child stands on his toes. If shoes are slightly too big, go for heavier socks to make them snugger.
- Shoes should be flexible at the ball of the foot (not in the middle of the shoe) where the foot bends. They should also have enough cushioning to make them comfortable.
- Check the inside of the shoe for any irritants such as bumps or staples.
- Look for lightweight shoes without heels that don’t have thick soles for new walkers.
- Baby feet perspire more than adult feet so look for breathable, absorbent materials like canvas or leather and choose cotton socks.
- Hand-me-downs are great for most things but it’s not a good idea to use secondhand shoes unless they have hardly been worn. Because shoes take on the shape of the wearer’s feet, they can be very uncomfortable and unhealthy for someone else to wear. Check the soles for signs of warping and wear before you put your child in them.
- Don’t make your toddler wear shoes all the time, especially not until he’s been walking for at least six weeks.
Everyone expects babies to take their first steps on their first birthday, but that’s not always the case. In fact, the normal range for learning to walk is 9 to 16 months and late walkers have definite advantages in some ways – they are less accident-prone because their understanding of the world around them has grown. Mothers of 9 month old walkers feel like they have a walking disaster on their hands!
If your baby doesn’t seem inclined to walk, give him lots of positive encouragement and play walking games with him – holding his hands and helping him walk. If at 16 months he still hasn’t taken his first steps, consult your pediatrician.