When should your child start wearing shoes?
November 06, 2013|By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Tribune Newspapers

For certain generations, though less so today, baby shoes carried such emotional significance that people would bronze them to preserve the memory of a child’s first steps.
But as heart-meltingly cute as they are, tiny sneakers and Mary Janes are not the best way for a toddler to start toddling, child and foot doctors say.

So when should a baby start wearing shoes? And what kind?
“It’s a really common question, and you hear completely opposite suggestions,” said Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician and owner of Primrose School of Legacy, a private preschool, in Omaha, Neb. “Some say to buy the rigid soles; others say that kids should go barefoot.”
While the old thinking held that rigid high-tops helped keep a child’s foot in position and offered stability, doctors today tend to agree that less is more when it comes to shoes in the first few years of life.
“After they start walking, you want them either barefoot or in the most flexible shoe possible so their muscles can develop properly,” said Dr. Jane Andersen, a podiatrist in Chapel Hill, N.C., and past president of the American Association for Women Podiatrists. “Flexibility is the most important issue as they are developing their arch.”
The bones in a baby’s foot are soft and don’t finish hardening until a child is around 5 years old, though kids’ feet keep growing into their teenage years. In theory, constricting soft feet with rigid shoes could prevent the bones from developing properly, Andersen said.
Also, stiffer soles can make walking harder for those just starting out because their feet are heavier, making them more likely to trip, Jana said.
Before a baby starts walking, bare feet or socks are best, though any kind of shoes can be worn for decoration or warmth or to help keep the socks on, Andersen said. There’s no harm done when shoes encase dangling feet, as long as they are not too tight or uncomfortable or have straps pinching their flesh, she said.
Once infants start taking steps, going barefoot is still ideal because they learn to walk and balance better when they can use their toes to grip, Jana said. To keep feet clean, warm and protected from the minefield of things they could step on, use socks with rubber grips on the bottom, so that they don’t slip, Jana said.
When kids start tottering around outside and need more protection than socks provide, choose flexible shoes that you can bend in half and twist, Andersen said. Rubber soles are better than leather because they are less likely to slip. Aim for soft materials for the upper part of the shoe so that the foot bends easily and the material doesn’t cut into the skin.
Closed-toe shoes are best, Jana added, because kids tend to drag their toes and might scratch their toes in open-toed shoes.

Andersen said she has been impressed with Stride Rite, a children’s footwear manufacturer that emphasizes healthy foot development and does thorough fittings, though people who can’t afford to spend $40 on a new pair of shoes every six months can do the bend-and-twist test at any retailer.
“They’re not necessarily going to be wearing them that long, so I certainly wouldn’t go all out and buy the big fancy whatever,” said Jana, who has three kids of her own. She said the most important thing is to ensure the kids are comfortable.
“The only thing I warn people about is that kids who are just learning to walk aren’t terribly verbal,” Jana said. “So you may not know why the child is upset but it turns out the shoe is too tight or rubbing, or they have a blister.”
At 4 or 5 years old, kids can start wearing shoes with more support, Andersen said. The same guidelines apply to kids who are pigeon-toed or have other foot deformities, though if parents are concerned they should see a podiatrist to determine if special accommodations are needed, she said. Conditions like club feet require physician attention and sometimes casting and surgery.
Shoe-buying tips
Dr. Jane Andersen, a podiatrist in Chapel Hill, N.C., offered a few tips for getting the right baby shoes:
Don’t share or hand down baby shoes, especially ones that were worn every day. Shoes need to be broken into a child’s individual foot.
Fit shoes toward the end of the day when the feet are a little swollen.
Make sure the child runs around the shoe store and likes the shoes for their comfort, not just their sparkles. If you see any grimaces or complaints, steer clear of that pair.
Choose shoes that have a little less than your thumb’s width of room at the toe so that your child can grow into it. When their toe approaches the end, it’s time to buy a new pair.

What Are the Benefits of Soft-Sole Shoes for Babies?
by Heather Montgomery, Demand Media

As soon as your baby begins to walk, it can be hard to keep up with her. Besides worrying about keeping her out of everything as she becomes mobile, you may also worry about what type of shoes to put on her precious feet. The human foot is one of the most amazing parts of the body, containing 26 bones, countless ligaments and several muscles. Keeping her feet safe and giving them the room they need to grow is vital. Soft-sole shoes offer several benefits for your growing baby.
Your baby needs to feel the ground he is walking on to learn how to walk properly. While walking barefoot is the best option for your baby, a flexible, soft-sole shoe is the next best choice. Soft-sole shoes allow your baby to move his feet freely and to feel the ground as he walks. According to Lisa C. Moore, doctor of chiropractic medicine in Auburn, California, “Soft-soled baby shoes allow the beginning walker to grip the floor, developing strong ankles and flexible foot bones. This creates a solid foundation for bone and muscle formation in the rest of the body, especially the spinal column. A level pelvis and straight spine depend upon healthy feet throughout our entire lives, beginning in infancy.”
The world is full of hazards for your baby’s feet. Splinters, rocks, glass, dirt, bugs and rough floors all pose dangers to your baby’s sensitive feet. Soft-sole shoes help keep your baby’s feet protected. A soft-sole shoe also offers protection from hot or cold surfaces. Dr. Ronald L. Valmassy, podiatrist, Center for Sports Medicine at St. Francis Memorial Hospital, San Francisco, California, says, “Overall, I feel very strongly that a child’s foot should have some protection from the ever-present danger of foreign bodies at home as well as outdoors. The soft-sole shoe clearly is adequate in providing this type of protection while allowing the foot to have a normal freedom of motion.”
Making sure that your baby’s feet are comfortable in her shoes is important. Constrictive materials like plastic, buckles, ties and plastic decorations can make wearing a pair of shoes uncomfortable and frustrating for your baby. Soft-sole shoes are typically made of soft, bendable materials both on the sole of the shoe and the upper portion. Soft-sole shoes also have elastic on the top of the shoe to offer movability within the shoe and an easy-on solution for a fidgeting baby. It is also important to make sure your baby’s socks are the right size; socks that are too tight can leave marks on your baby’s feet and restrict her ability to freely move her toes.
Choosing the Right Shoe
Not all soft-sole shoes are equal. You should choose a soft-sole shoe with a slip-resistant sole made of a breathable material like suede, leather or sheepskin. The shoe should also have plenty of flexibility; you should be able to bend the shoe easily. Choose a shoe made with breathable, natural fabric to allow your baby’s feet to breathe. Your baby’s shoes should also have backs and a roomy toe area.
• Robeez: Baby’s Growing Feet
• HealthyChildren.org: Movement: 8 to 12 Months
• Foosies: Why Soft-Sole Shoes?
• Foosies: Pediatricians and Podiatrists Recommend
About the Author
Based in Lakeland, FL., Heather Montgomery has been writing a popular celebrity parenting blog and several parenting and relationship articles since 2011. Her work also appears on eHow and Everyday Family and she focuses her writing on topics about parenting, crafts, education and family relationships. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in early education from Fort Hays State University.

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