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The Informed Parent

Baby’s New Shoes

by Shanna R. Cox, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Oct. 22, 2012

One of the most exciting purchases a parent can make is in choosing their child’s first pair of shoes. Oftentimes these purchases are even bronzed to commemorate “baby’s first steps.” For such an important moment, it is advantageous to have a few facts when entering the arena of children’s shoes. In the past there weren’t many options for the new parent buying walking shoes. With the advent of multi item discount stores and the rise of name brand shoes, this choice has become somewhat more complicated than just making a visit to the local Stride-Rite store.

When does a child need shoes? This is the first question that parents must tackle. One common misconception is that shoes make it easier for a child to walk. As with many things natural to our design, the human foot is the best surface for a child to learn to walk on. In truth, first foot coverings are more for safety and warmth than they are for support and need only be adopted when a child is going to be outdoors. This first type of covering might be a thick wide sock or a soft flexible shoe that fit’s the child’s foot shape, but is not required for indoor activities. This would apply to a child up until he takes his first steps, which on average is around one year of age.

The first true walking shoe is acquired once a child actually can walk and should be flexible but also provide support. Orthopedic specialists recommend a high top rather than a low canvas tennis shoe or Mary Jane style. This is for support of the ankle and the practical task of keeping the shoe on the foot. In addition, synthetic materials that do not breathe well should be avoided since new walker’s feet sweat quite a bit.

At this stage the parent should look for a firm smooth sole--one that will not generate friction that could cause the new walker to tumble more often than necessary. A textured sole is not appropriate at this stage. New walkers may not accommodate to the friction that a parent may perceive as added traction. Lastly, a light weight shoe will be easier for the new walker, as this new skill requires a great deal more energy than a toddler has ever expended previously. These guidelines apply until a child is approximately thirty-six months of age.

Once a child has been walking a couple years, they can have more variety in their shoe choice. Shoe fit and style that compliments a child’s foot type becomes the most important factors to consider. Development of sores or calluses are indications that a child’s shoes are not fitting them correctly. Children’s feet grow rapidly and frequent assessments of size changes are  needed for healthy foot growth. Once again, looking for shoes made of breathable materials is important to prevent excess perspiration that may lead to poor foot health.

With so many choices, parents can be overwhelmed in purchasing new shoes at any stage. Perhaps the oldest children’s shoe manufacturer is the Stride Rite Company. Previously only sold at their own stores, their shoes can now be found in a variety of different locations. Perhaps more than the name, the experience of the “fitter”, and the service a parent receives at a child’s shoe store stand out as the factors that most often help guide shoe purchases and provide information about foot development. Of course any concerns about walking patterns or foot shape should be brought to the attention of a pediatrician. Happy shopping!

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