Parents have been walking up to me with lots of questions about baby shoes. When does their baby need to be in shoes? What type do I recommend? I don’t want to be a heel on this one, so let me get to the sole of the matter.

First of all, babies do not need shoes to learn to walk. In fact, babies who remain barefoot tend to develop strong foot muscles and walk sooner than those who wear shoes. Why? The forefoot becomes more mobile and flexible than it would if placed in a shoe.

As for warmth and protection, socks may be all your baby needs. Socks with rubber grips on the bottom help to reduce the chance of your older infant or toddler slipping. If you are going to be outside on cold or rough surfaces, go ahead and try out some shoes.

As to what type of shoe to buy, consider a soft shoe of either cloth or soft leather. These materials will allow the feet to breathe with a very flexible rubber sole and a flat-non-skid bottom. High-tops are out since they restrict ankle movement needed to start walking.

There should be a half-inch of toe room in your child’s shoes. That room will help, as babies and toddlers will outgrow their shoes about every two months. Shoes should also have minimal heel, if any, so that the child doesn’t catch the heel on obstacles.

Velcro instead of laces is probably the way to go when your child is young. That way, you don’t have to worry about retying laces all day long. Be aware, however, that a child could get out of shoes with Velcro more easily than with laces tied tightly.

Also, avoid decorations that can detach and pose a choking hazard. Hand-me-down shoes are not a good idea since a shoe needs to be broken into a child’s individual foot.

Hopefully tips like these will help you to put your best foot forward when purchasing shoes for your young child.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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