Keeping a little person warm and cosy as well as protecting them from the elements is part and parcel of parenting. Like putting a woollen hat on your baby’s head to keep away the cold, there will also come a time when you will need to consider the options for keeping baby’s tiny toes toasty as well as safe from hazards underfoot. But what do you need to consider when choosing your baby’s first footwear?
1. Your baby’s foot
Fully developed adult feet have 33 joints, over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, and 26 bones. Our sweet babies do not have hardened well-used fully formed feet like adult humans. Instead, babies’ feet are made up of soft, flexible cartilage. Like soft chubby chunks of playdoh, babies’ feet are malleable clay ready to grow into the adult feet they will be one day.
Over time, the cartilage in a baby’s foot gradually hardens into bone and the joints and muscles strengthen. Feet are not likely to be fully formed until a child is in their late teens. That’s a lot of growing and developing time!
This means that, a baby’s foot shape is not the same as an adult foot. Babies’ feet are generally quite round, though some can also be long and slim. Babies’ feet also do not have much of a formed arch.
This also means that a shoe that is perfect for an adult’s foot is not necessarily good for a baby’s foot.
2. How babies’ feet develop
Babies grow more in the first year of life than at any other time. This rapid period of growth includes several stages of strengthening and moulding for their soft, malleable, chubby feet. These stages and examples of movement that strengthens a baby’s foot for each stage are:
- Pre- crawling: babies kick their legs, bend their toes, move their ankles, grab their feet etc.
- Crawling: babies move their ankles and start bearing weight on different areas of each individual foot, sometimes in uneven ways e.g. ‘crab crawling’ whereby one foot is used more than the other.
- Pre-walking – babies pull themselves up on and move around furniture and other household ‘obstacles’. At this stage they are starting to bear their full weight on their feet as well as shuffle and move their feet.
- First steps and the foundations of walking – babies bear their full weight on their feet and move their ankle in different ‘walking’ motions (heel to toe, flat footed etc).
The requirements for a shoe in the different stages vary slightly. All stages require a soft shoe that allows for the strengthening movements. A non-slip sole would also be needed in the pre-walking and walking stages.
3. Shoe style
Baby shoes come in a wide array of different styles for newborn, crawlers, pre-walkers and toddlers alike. At one end of the spectrum there are hard-soled mini sneakers similar to adult shoes. At the other end, there are soft soled baby booties lovingly knitted by a loved one.
Baby shoe style options are seemingly endless and some are so super cute, but not all are created equal when considering the requirements for your baby’s foot development. For example, a hard rubber soled baby shoe that looks like a miniature version of an adult shoe, maybe cute. However, a hard soled shoe does not allow for the shape of a soft and flexible baby foot, or the movement required to develop and strengthen a baby’s foot.
Essentially, a hard soled shoe could potentially be hazardous to the growth and strengthening of a baby’s developing feet. Accordingly, hard-soled shoes are not recommended by medical professionals in baby’s first year.
4. What the shoe is made from
As well as the endless style options for baby shoes there is also the consideration of the material the baby shoes are made from, which are seemingly even more endless.
There are the manmade synthetic fibres such as plastic, polyester, acrylic as well as faux leather and rubber.
And then there are the more natural fibres such as cotton, leather, natural rubber, and wool.
Babies cannot regulate their body temperature. They also, surprisingly, can have quite sweaty feet. This is where natural fibres help your baby to be comfortable.
Natural fibres such as wool, are like a second skin. Wool is naturally temperature regulating. It also allows your skin to breathe.
A soft woollen shoe will keeps tiny toes warm in winter and just right in summer.
So what’s the solution and answer to every parent’s question:
What is the best footwear option for my baby?
The answer is threefold and simple.
The best footwear option, for your newborn, crawler, pre-walker or newly standing baby/toddler, is:
- A soft shoe to allow for your baby’s foot to move freely and the muscles, joints, ligaments and bones to develop, grow and strengthen naturally without impediment.
- A shoe with a soft, flexible sole and that is non-skid for walkers.
- A shoe made from a natural fibre, to allow your little one to be comfortable and their tiny toes to breathe.