Your baby is pulling to stand constantly: in the crib, at the couch, at the coffee table and holding onto your legs. She prefers playing in standing leaning against the couch.
You notice that sometimes she lets go of the couch for a second or two and stands all by herself.
And she literally begs you to hold her hands to walk around the house all day long.
Is she ready to walk soon?
Should you buy walking shoes?
And you heard it somewhere that barefoot is best. You need answers.
At this point you realize…
If you walk outside she will have to wear shoes, so you have to find the best shoe for her anyway. And while you are at it you will figure out if barefoot is best.
One night you tuck your little one in and plop yourself in front of the computer searching the web for information and the best shoes.
You stumble upon a variety of advice, guidance and feel more overwhelmed each hour passing buy although you barely notice the time eloping.
Around midnight you become extremely tired and stare at your computer's clock beaming the correct time at you in disbelief. You are exhausted and more confused than ever before.
You are looking for a comprehensive article which will explain in simple English what is the best way for your baby to learn to walk.
Look no further. The answer is simple.
The best shoes for her are the shoes that support her needs and not the child next door. There is not one shoe that is good for every kid.
The problem is…
That there is no store that I know that makes individualized shoes unless they are orthopedic shoes. If you know one, please share it with the rest of the mothers reading this article in the comments below.
The good news is:
There are general guidelines that you can follow to find the best shoe for your precious beginner walker.
Let me walk you through the whole process.
Proper shoes are protective and assistive devices.
They protect your baby from cutting, scraping, burning her feet on rocks, rough surfaces, hot sand…
They are an assistive device as well as they can positively affect how she stands, walks, jumps, climbs or runs.
Bad shoes, on the other hand, are like walking on a difficult/bad surface all the time where your feet have to compensate for the misalignment the shoes are causing.
Each shoe has different characteristics. Each will make your baby stand/walk differently.
Since we cannot avoid wearing shoes, it is essential that you pick the right shoes for your baby (and yourself).
Children's bodies are growing, and they move much-much more than we adults do.
Due to the fast growth and intense daily movement, bad shoes can cause bad posture sooner in children than in adults.
If the child wears bad shoes year after year, he can develop deformities which can last a lifetime.
Crucial features to look for in any shoe you buy for your baby are:
shoes that have laces, are lightweight, have firm heel cups, a relatively small padded closure, and soft bendable soles.
I know what you are thinking…
Laces? They are old-fashioned and pain in the…
Let me explain.
There are good shoes that have Velcro or elastic-lace style closures but only a few.
In another post I will teach you how to make sure you pick the right shoe with Velcro. For now, if you want the best shoe for your baby, buy a shoe that has laces.
Laces are the best way to keep the shoe snug contouring your baby’s foot. If the shoe is not snug her foot will move within the shoe.
If the foot moves within the shoe the baby will have to compensate. What that compensation will be is different for every baby.
So even though the laces in the shoes slow us down in our daily routines it is still best practice to buy shoes with laces. Even for yourself!
(Have you noticed that all sneakers have laces? Good support comes from laces! A sporting shoe has to have good support. That is why they have laces. So should have your baby’s walking shoes!)
The next feature to look for is:
The weight of the shoe.
Buy a shoe for your baby that is not too heavy.
She is learning to balance herself; all her energy is spent on not falling, so a heavy shoe is a huge burden.
If she is on the frail side, a heavy shoe will make her compensate.
Let’s stop to discuss what are compensations to make sure all babies that have challenges will wear the best shoes.
In short and very simple way to look at it is: compensations are poor posture. Poor posture is the result of movements done inappropriately or in lay terms “crookedly” for a period of time.
These inappropriate movements can originate anywhere in the body. The common originating body parts are weak trunk/back, weak core, weak hips, weak ankles, and weak shoulders.
Some of the compensations are only noticed by professionals. Some even you can notice.
Is your baby turning her feet inward (pigeon-toed)? Or outward? If so, she is compensating.
Does your baby have collapsing ankles when she is standing or walking?
Does your baby have a protruding belly or an arch in her low back?
If so, she is compensating.
How does this happen?
If your baby is struggling to keep herself upright, she will have to stand, walk, move differently from the norm.
These movements are called compensatory movements, and they can affect your baby’s postural alignment.
I know I am throwing big words around.
Allow me to explain.
Posture = Spinal alignment is a study of the natural curvatures of the spine.
Ideally, there are soft curvatures in the neck and the lower back curving the spine into one direction.
The chest area and the pelvis area curve into the other direction.
These curvatures are very mild in an infant and slowly increase as your baby develops.
A toddler has almost invisible curves in her back.
If the curvatures are increased or decreased compared to normal, we call that a compensatory mechanism = inadequate postural alignment = poor posture.
Is that really bad?
This question could only be answered in person by a professional. These compensations can lead to inappropriate development and discomforts like tightness, deformities or pain.
Most babies will start to walk with mild compensatory movements and will grow out of them. Good shoes will definitely make sure she will develop better and outgrows the usual compensatory movements described above faster and well.
In some cases, the compensations can be severe.
For example: If the shoulders are weak than the neck/head is not supported well. It could cause your baby to have a humped upper back or a protruded head or a protruding belly or a flat low back, and it could even affect how she stands on her feet.
But in essence, this and any weakness could affect the whole body.
What should you do?
You can visit a podiatrist, an orthopedic doctor or a physical therapist to see what level of support and help your baby needs.
Make sure to choose a practitioner who specializes in pediatrics. Adult treatment is very different.
The professionals might suggest exercises and/or therapy for your baby.
Therapeutic exercising is the best way to resolve weakness and compensation. A pediatric medical professional can also utilize special devices, like braces, shoe inserts to help the baby develop well.
In moderate to mild cases, ankle and foot weakness can be helped with orthopedic shoes.
If your baby is not compensating in any way, you should still buy shoes following these guidelines. It does not hurt your baby to walk in supportive shoes.
Now that we know if your baby has compensations or not let's resume discussing the rest of the guidelines.
As I wrote earlier, there are 5 crucial features.
(1. laces, 2. lightweight, 3. firm heel cups, 4. small padded closure and 5. bendable soles)
So far we established that the best shoe has laces and is lightweight.
Put one shoe in your hand and feel the weight. If it is heavier than a lemon put it back.
If the shoe has laces and passes the weight test the next feature to look for are firm heel cups.
Heel cups are there in most of the sneakers and boots. Most “walking baby shoes” do not have good heal cups or none at all.
Hold the back of the shoe as seen in the picture below and squeeze the back.
If it has a resistance, it has a built-in heel cup.
The bigger the resistance, the firmer the heel cup is.
The heel cup can be pretty firm; it won’t hurt your baby as long as the shoe has good padding and bendable soles.
Soft heel cups, on the other hand, can cause instability in the ankles which in turn will cause compensations as mentioned above.
(This is one feature that you can overlook if your baby is not compensating. You could buy shoes that have soft heel cups, and she will do well in them, but I suggest you follow all the other guidelines closely.)
Having said that, every baby will benefit greatly wearing shoes that have a heel cup because with every growth spurt your baby gets weaker for a period of time and that extra support comes in very handy for her.
Let’s look at the last 2 features in the best shoe for your baby.
If you found a shoe that has laces, is lightweight and has firm heel cups next look at the closure of the shoe.
The closure supposed to hug your child’s ankles to prevent unnecessary movements and thus compensations.
To determine the size of the closure, tie the shoe mimicking as if it would be on your baby’s foot. Look at the shoe from the top and imagine your baby’s ankle size into it.
If it is too big, your baby’s foot will move in the shoe. This takes away the support the shoe could have provided her and it could cause an extra burden as well. She will have to compensate for the lack of support and/or the extra burden.
If it is too small, it will be too tight and hard to tie the shoe correctly. If most closures seem small for your baby’s ankles, consider the need for a wide shoe for her.
Since shoes with these characteristics give a snug support, the shoe has to have ample padding, especially at the closure. The padding is there to avoid painful pressure points which again could cause compensations.
Don’t feel overwhelmed!
There is only one more curtail feature to look for.
The flexibility of the sole.
The sole of the best shoe has to be flexible enough that you could bend it with one hand. Bending the shoe with one hand is an average measure. If you are on the frail side use two hands to test the sole of the shoe.
Hard, unbendable soles do not allow the foot to feel the surface well and restrict natural movement of the feet and ankles too much.
That’s it. Now you know how to buy the best shoe for your baby.
Yes, the New Balance 990 series are shoes that have the above characteristics.
I suggest you to buy at least once the New Balance Shoes. This will give you the opportunity to see, hold, bend and feel the characteristics of a good shoe for your baby in real life.
With this experience you will be able to go to any shoe store and find the right shoe much easier for your baby the next time you have to buy one for her.
There is only one question left:
Like everything else in life, this can be approached from many angles.
Here is my take on it:
Barefoot is best. Simple. But there is a catch…
Barefoot is best only, and I repeat only if your baby is not compensating!
Allow me to explain.
Natural postural development depends greatly on the good alignment of the spine, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and head.
Standing/walking barefoot is the most natural way to be. Natural is best.
However, if your baby is compensating in any way, her postural alignment will be off.
She could be hurting her body without proper support.
Let me give you an example:
I started working with Dimor when he was 3 years old. A healthy, happy, energetic, sweet little boy.
But he was clumsy.
So much so, that he fell often and injured himself badly.
Parents became concerned and decided to seek professional help.
I noticed right away that he had a belly that is “too big looking”. Not because of excess weight but because the way he was standing.
This meant he is compensating for something with an increased arch in his back.
Examining his strength revealed overall weakness. Very mild, but noticeable by a professional.
When I checked him walking barefoot, I saw that he was collapsing his arch, hyper-extending his knees, creating a flat foot gait.
Weak muscles, unstable ankles, collapsing arches in the feet, overextending knees certainly can lead to instability and compensation, hence the increased arch in his low back.
I asked the parents if he walks barefoot a lot.
They proudly answered: Yes!
They know it is best to walk as much as possible barefoot.
I had to be the “bad guy” and inform them, that it is not actually.
Learning walking barefoot is not best for everybody.
Learning walking barefoot is good for a very small percentage of today’s baby population. This is partially due to our overuse of baby equipment and not enough tummy time.
The parents were bewildered.
I wish that this would not be the case. However, most of the babies have some sort of instability in their bodies.
This is why I recommend wearing this type of shoes when your baby is learning to walk.
Shoes alter the way your baby is standing. It also alters the way she is supported or burdened while standing and walking. That is why a good shoe can help her; a bad shoe can make things worse.
Barefoot she has to support herself via her muscles only. Which is why barefoot is great. Great if she is not compensating.
In good shoes, she gets help through the decreased slipping the rubbery soles provide. The firmness of the heel cups, the bendable soles, the proper width, the laces, the padded closure will also support and assistance her to be her best when she learns to walk.
And since any instability could affect the whole body it is best to be on the safe side and use the support a good shoe can provide.
Then why is there a myth going around that barefoot is best?
Because there is truth in it. It is only a partial myth.
If everything is perfect with the baby than learning walking barefoot is best for her.
It allows the baby to develop the intricate muscles in her feet.
It also provides the experience to explore different surfaces directly, without the shoe as a barrier.
In our everyday life, we walk quite a bit in slippers, shoes, sandals, etc.
Any shoe your baby wears will change the way her feet meet the ground.
Wearing shoes will change what the sole feels.
Instead of feeling earth, carpet, grass, sand, stone… we feel the plastic mold of the shoe and whatever the thickness of the sole allows through.
These are some of the reasons why barefoot is best. So it is not a myth. It is the best.
But it is a partially a myth because it is best only for babies who have great postural alignment and have no compensations.
And unfortunately there is a “price” for the rest of the babies …
If your baby has weak ankles or a weak trunk, or weak legs, or weak shoulders (as explained above)… she could have postural and/or compensatory issues growing up.
As a therapist, I asked: What is more important?
#1. Focus on the best postural development and delay the natural development of the feet and ankles?
#2. Or focus on the natural development of the feet and ankles and run the risk of poor postural development?
With 26+ years of experience working with mildly compensating children and with very sick children I can confidently say that:
To be on the safe side wearing supportive shoes in the first crucial months while your baby learns to walk will allow her posture to develop better.
So my choice is # 1. Focus on the postural development first.
After she learned to walk well, when she has been walking for 6 to 8 months she will be an established walker. Then she will be ready to walk barefoot and catch up with the “delay” the shoes caused.
To exercise the feet in barefoot I suggest the following:
In the summer months, make a focused effort to let your baby walk barefoot on grass, dry earth, mud, sand, small twigs, puddles, (maybe even on smooth pebbles…)
And since we walk so much in shoes make an effort to walk with your baby and children barefoot on these different surfaces every summer.
Join them in this fun endeavor!
Still have questions?
Write them in the comments bellow and I will be happy to answer your concerns.
The best approach to help your baby is to educate yourself about infant development and keep records about your baby's development.
With intention, a vision, a clear goal, patience, persistence, daily repletion, and a joyful firm belief in your baby, in yourself and the universe anything is possible!
As always, enjoy your baby and motherhood.
See your baby (babies) as a gift for you to love and cherish.
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