Baby shoes are a big business these days! A miniature version of Dad’s favorite sneakers may be adorable, but research shows that it’s best for babies (and older kids, too) to be barefoot as much as possible.
Kids need shoes, of course. City sidewalks and snowy grounds aren’t barefoot-friendly, but warm homes, playgrounds and mud puddles are!
Why are Bare Feet Good for My Baby?
Unless you notice problems with your child’s foot development (more on this below), being barefoot is ideal. Here are some of the reasons why:
It allows for optimal foot development. At birth, the bones in your baby’s feet are soft. As he grows, the bones harden and the joints, ligaments and muscles in his feet develop. Studies suggest that children’s shoes (especially if they’re stiff, narrow, tight, or have an inflexible sole) can interfere with foot development because the foot conforms to the shoe instead of forming naturally.
It improves agility. When toddlers walk barefoot they tend to look up because the information they receive through their feet orients them and makes them feel secure. Shoes block that intake of information, so toddlers wearing them tend to look down and are more apt to topple over. Shoes can also restrict toe spread, which helps tots stay balanced.
Barefoot steps also boost coordination because they send messages to a child’s brain about how to organize his movement patterns and effectively navigate his body through space.
It promotes awareness. Being barefoot not only frees children to look up and around rather than at the floor, but also helps them learn to safely traverse different surfaces. Walking and running barefoot on hard floors, sand, grass, mud and the like gives children confidence to maneuver their bodies in different settings. Research has even suggested that being barefoot correlates with being less prone to injury.
It optimizes sensory motor development. There are as many as 200,000 nerve endings in the sole of one foot! Even before learning to stand and walk, being barefoot teaches babies about their bodies and their surroundings. Bare feet against swaddles, laps, beds, carseats, strollers and the ground exposes babies to different textures, temperatures, and opportunities to push with their feet and toes. Barefoot tummy time and crawling allows full freedom to use feet and toes for movement.
When You Need Shoes, Choose Wisely
Now that we’ve pointed out benefits of being barefoot, let’s talk about those city sidewalks and snowy grounds. When you need to put shoes on your child, keep these points in mind:
- Strong ankle support at the back of the shoe
- Flexibility in the front of the shoe to allow the foot to move
- Wide at the front of the shoe to allow toes to spread and move
- Level sole that matches the floor
- Avoid high-tops, as they restrict ankle movement
Exceptions to the Barefoot Rule
While being barefoot as much as possible is ideal for the majority of babies, some children, and even adults, may benefit from wearing shoes due to abnormal foot development. Pediatric Physical Therapist Dr. Andrea Hayward, PT, DPT explains that if you notice any of these red flags during the first few years of walking, consult with your pediatrician or a pediatric physical therapist:
- Feet are rolling in
- Feet have blisters or callouses
- When standing, toes are turning outward rather than pointing straight
- Knees knock together
- Persistent toe-walking
Those cute shoes on the shelves these days can be hard to resist. Try using them for photo ops, and then set your barefoot baby free to explore and learn about his surroundings, his body, and movement through his feet!