Blog

August 9, 2017: Baby feet, socks, shoes, baby-grows and bare feet

When it comes to baby feet, socks, shoes, baby-grows and bare feet there are so many questions. What is best? When should a baby start wearing shoes or should they wear them at all? How do you choose the best footwear?

At birth the human foot is not a miniature version of an adult foot actually containing no bones at all but merely consisting of a mass of cartilage, which, over a period of years, ossifies (turns to bone) to become the 28 bones that exist in the adult human foot.

This process is not complete until the late teens or early twenties, so it is crucial that footwear – when worn – is well chosen so it doesn’t compromise and change the shape of the young developing foot.

‘Footwear’ in babies means anything that is used to cover the foot regardless of function. For example, in a new born until they start to stand, any foot covering whether it is socks shoes or baby-grow has a primary function of providing warmth.

From a functional perspective, shoes aren’t really needed and there are more likely to be disadvantages and problems from wearing shoes than not wearing them – among them, deformation caused by a poor fit, ingrown toenails, and athlete’s foot.

Manufacturers must take some responsibility for encouraging parents to treat their babies/children as fashion accessories and choose shoes on their attractiveness or coolness, rather than their fit or function.

There are exceptions of course. You have to consider the environment the child is in. You wouldn’t want your child walking on the streets or in the park barefoot, where there might be dog poo, dirt and possible hazards like glass would you? So common sense applies.

Wearing shoes at too young an age can hamper a child’s walking and cerebral development. Toddlers keep their heads up more when they are walking barefoot, The feedback they get from the ground means less need to look down, which otherwise puts them off balance and causes them to fall over.

Walking barefoot develops muscles and ligaments in the foot, increases the strength of the foot’s arches, improves proprioception (our unconscious awareness of where we are in relation to the space around us) and contributes to good posture.

The more parents know about the structure of children’s feet, the more we can prevent footwear-related damage being done.

What sort of damage? Research published in podiatry journal ‘The Foot’ in 2007 suggested that structural and functional changes can result from the foot having to conform to the shape and constriction of a shoe, rather than being allowed to develop naturally.

And the younger the foot, the greater the potential for damage.

Most children’s shoes are like awful little bricks – too stiff, too rigid, with no flexibility at the sole and too much heel raise. This is of particular concern with toddlers learning to walk, because it can cause them to bounce and tip forward.

A completely rigid shoe will restrict movement of the forefoot to zero. Kids this age should be turning cartwheels, skipping, climbing trees, running around. A shoe like this seriously restricts such playful physicality – make it less fun, and less enjoyable.

Just as important is choosing the right size socks. Many parents dutifully check the size of their child’s shoes but never consider or know how to check the size of their socks.

How? Take hold of the toe and heel of the sock and without pulling or stretching it should meet around the child’s clenched fist. All socks should be checked regularly due to rapid growth but also because they can shrink during the washing and drying process.

Easily overlooked, baby-grows can place even more pressure on the feet and restrict growth, especially in a rapidly growing child. If you don’t want to replace the baby-grow then cut the seams at the feet to allow the feet to poke out and use socks for warmth.

As a general rule, in the appropriate environment, whenever possible, bare foot is best in at least the first six years of a child’s life. There is no reason why this can’t extend to adults although common sense needs to be exercised with diabetics and anyone with peripheral neuropathy.

If you would like more information, to speak to one of our Podiatrists or to make an appointment then please call Maidenhead Podiatry on 01628 773588.