Do babies need shoes when they walk?

My one year old is walking with support. When should we introduce her to shoes and what type of shoes should we use first?

Question:

How exciting to see your baby taking her first steps! This is such a significant milestone. It is wonderful to see all of the stages of walking: pulling up to a stand using support, getting to a standing position from the middle of the floor, walking holding on to furniture, walking holding on to your hand. As exciting as it is, we don’t need to push it. Each baby will achieve it in her own time, in her own way.

Now the big question arises. What about footwear? You can always check with your pediatrician if you have particular questions about your baby’s feet. Remember that what we do about shoes has more to do with our own experiences and cultural beliefs than anything else. Some families like to run out and buy the most expensive shoes they can the minute their baby pulls to a stand; others put off sticking restrictive shoes on their child’s foot as long as possible. There are many right ways to do it. Here are some guidelines and things to think about as you make your right decision:

  • Baby’s feet are built for walking. Remember that the foot is a strong and complex part of the body, built to carry our body’s weight, grip surfaces and balance the rest of our body perfectly. Feet which have had a chance to engage in normal baby movements like crawling, kicking, pushing, flexing, are plenty strong enough to support a newly walking baby. The idea that a normally-developing baby requires shoes for support is not based on a baby’s physical needs.
  • Shoes can provide certain kinds of protection. Baby’s feet are, however, sensitive. They don’t have the calluses that adult feet have developed over the years. They are sensitive to heat and other potentially sharp or painful surfaces. If your baby is going to be walking outside in the sun or on rough terrain, shoes provide the necessary protection.
  • Feet are made for gripping. If you have ever watched a baby’s foot as she is crawling or walking, you can see how much the foot does. Toes curl and grip the surface as she moves, her feet dangle down to feel the lower step to see how far away it is. Shoes take away some of her opportunity to use the full range of motion of her feet. It is useful for her to have at least some time every day barefoot.
  • Feet are made for feeling. Barefoot time also allows your baby sensory experiences. With her feet she can feel the difference between grass and dirt, floor and carpet. This kind of sensory information (which she also takes in with other parts of her body) is important for her development.
  • Shoes should be flexible. A flexible shoe allows your baby to use the movement of her feet to keep her balance and help her walk. Flexible shoes are also more comfortable than stiff or rigid shoes. Shoes should also have non-slip soles. It is essential for your baby’s safety that she isn’t slipping and sliding around in her shoes. However, super sticky soles sometimes make children fall down at first, because they are not used to the way the sole sticks to the floor.
  • Make sure you have a proper fit. Most importantly, babies should have shoes that fit properly. Too tight or too loose shoes can cause blisters, pain and can even be dangerous when children try to walk or run in them.
  • Children can be very opinionated about shoes. Some children hate having anything on their feet and pull off socks and shoes every chance they get. Forcing these children to keep shoes on, except when required by safety (hot pavement, broken glass, stickers in the grass) may be a battle not worth fighting. Other children refuse to go anywhere without their shoes. Remember to consider your baby's opinion about what she should have on her feet.
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