Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes

It’s one of those parenting milestones like first smile, first rollover or first laugh. The first step. Prior to walking, baby only needed shoes for two reasons: decoration and to keep her from pulling off her socks at inopportune times. Soon her shoes will serve a function other than adornment. How do you find that first, real pair of shoes?

Size

Infant shoe sizes, like their clothing sizes, are typically based on months of age and will be listed as a month or a size (frequently starting with size 4). Some manufacturers correlate shoe size to the length in inches of the foot, instead of to age. Stride Right, a popular children’s shoe maker and retailer offers a downloadable PDF with a shoe chart and an E-fit calculator that allows parents to enter the length and width of the child’s foot for guidance with size determinations. (Visit http://www.striderite.com, click on “e-fit”.)

Function

Many parents and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) favor shoes that more closely resemble thick socks than shoes. Dr. Lynn T. Staheli, a professor at the University of Washington and author of the book Pediatric Orthopedics, endorses shoes that mirror the “barefoot environment.”

According to her paper, published in Pediatrics (the magazine of the AAP), “the primary role of shoes is to protect the foot from injury and infection.”

Parents seeking these barefoot style shoes usually favor moccasins with soft, leather bottoms and uppers secured by non-binding elastic around the ankle. Part of the popularity of these styles of shoes is that they work with the developmental level of their wearer. Most infants initially balance on their “tip toes” and only gradually learn to flatten their foot on the floor. These soft-bottomed shoes allow an infant to practice standing on the balls of his feet (usually while holding a table or Dad for support) and allow him to press his heal down as he is ready, rather than forcing his foot into that position.

Fashion

Most parents can’t live with functional shoes alone. The wide array of adorable styles is simply too tempting. Currently, retailers feature infant shoes in styles that vary from funky to classic for a range of budgets and to match any outfit.

Many grandparents recall when baby’s first shoe featured a stiff bottom (Mary Janes for girls and saddle shoes for boys). Although no longer the recommended first shoe by the AAP, this style can be used to create a nostalgic baby photo op. The hard-bottomed, leather upper baby shoe is still a staple of most department stores and online to satisfy grandparents enamored with that classic style.

Fit

Whether you favor function or form —or a hybrid of both — pay close attention to your baby’s feet and ankles when you remove his footwear. Staheli cautions, “Stiff and compressive footwear may cause deformity, weakness and loss of mobility.” If there is evidence of chaffing, tenderness, or redness around the ankle, the shoe you have chosen is probably not appropriate for your child. In this case, it’s wise to reconsider the style you have chosen and talk to your pediatrician for additional recommendations.

Infant footwear is very much like infants themselves: cute, colorful and energetic. From the classics to polka dotted moccasins to baby Nike, there is a shoe out there that will suit your baby’s personality and your own. That first step is coming; it’s time to shop!