When you have a new baby, you’re constantly experiencing firsts: baby’s first smile, first tooth, first haircut. But here’s one you don’t hear a whole lot about: baby’s first pair of shoes.
But what kind of shoes should you buy? When exactly does your baby need to start wearing them? How can you find the right size? We’ve got the lowdown on tiny footwear.
When do babies need shoes?
Think about what your baby does all day: likely not a whole lot of hiking, biking, or walking. Does your infant really need shoes?
No, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP says that in the early months of their lives, babies’ feet “develop best if they’re not confined in shoes.”
The bottom line? Slip some cute socks, soft booties, or comfy moccasins on those squirmy feet to keep tiny toes warm, and save the shoes for a little later down the line — specifically for when your little one is walking around outdoors and requires protection.
Buying baby’s first pair of shoes
When those shaky first steps occur and it’s time to go shoe-shopping, you may be tempted to overthink this process. The first pair of shoes! So important!
But it’s actually pretty simple. When picking out a pair of shoes for your new walker, just focus on these four things:
- Shoes should protect little feet from injury or infection.
- Choose non-skid soles to minimize slips on smooth surfaces. Rubber-soled shoes provide traction for new walkers.
- Shoes should be sturdy enough to walk on various surfaces (think sidewalk, grass, and sandbox).
- Choose breathable materials such as mesh or soft leather. Babies’ feet can get really sweaty.
You also should think about your budget. You don’t want to skimp, but for three months’ worth of wear, you may not want to splurge. And let’s face it — it’s not the 1960s anymore, so you probably won’t be getting these tiny shoes bronzed someday.
Barefoot(ish) is best
As is the case with many aspects of parenting, people have varying schools of thought about babies and shoes. Some still believe the outdated notion that babies need hard-soled shoes to support developing feet. On the other end of the spectrum, some say babies should go barefoot 24/7.
The answer likely lies somewhere in between. Meaning barefoot is basically best.
With those momentous first steps, your newly minted toddler is setting the stage for a gait (aka walking pattern) that lasts a lifetime. Learning to walk is easiest without shoes or socks, because tiny toes are made to grip the ground while heels keep baby stable.
But going barefoot isn’t always possible — especially outdoors, with uneven surfaces, hot surfaces, cold surfaces, a sandbox frequented by cats, and so on.
That’s why the AAP recommends choosing shoes that mimic going barefoot but still offer some measure of protection. In other words, skip the clunky sneakers or stiff dress shoes in favor of shoes that are flexible and lightweight. You’re aiming for natural movement here.
Finding the right size
If you’ve ever forced your foot into a too-small pair of shoes, you know exactly how uncomfortable that is. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your baby has shoes that fit properly.
If at all possible, try shoes on before buying. If you order online, order from a retailer that allows returns if the shoes don’t fit.
You want shoes that fit fairly tightly at the heel so baby’s foot doesn’t move forward when she walks. Allow about a finger’s or thumb’s width of space between the shoe’s edge and baby’s longest toe.
Because toddler feet grow so quickly, it’s important to thoroughly check the fit regularly — at least once a month, if not more.
“Put some real shoes on that baby!” and other bad advice
Everyone always has something to say about your parenting. Below, we’ve debunked a few myths you might hear about baby and toddler footwear:
“Put some hard-soled shoes on that baby! She needs it to support developing foot and leg muscles.”
Nope. Baby’s feet will develop just fine without shoes, according to Paediatrics & Child Health.
“Those shoes aren’t good enough. New walkers need shoes with high ankle support!”
No, shoes with high ankles are not necessary for support. Some parents do prefer them, however, simply because they make it tougher for busy toddlers to remove them.
“Your toddler is walking strangely—you need to buy him corrective shoes!”
When in doubt, you should always consult your physician. However, it’s important to know that the majority of children do not require corrective footwear.
“Tight shoes are better than no shoes!”
Absolutely not. No shoes are better than shoes that are too tight. If you notice your little one has outgrown her shoes, just have her wear socks until you can pick up a new pair.
Buying baby’s first pair of shoes really is a milestone. Celebrate it! Over time, your little one’s footwear needs and tastes will evolve. Before you know it, you’ll be buying those sparkly Converse because your preschooler insisted on them or splurging on top-notch cleats for your brand-new soccer player. As long as your baby’s shoes are comfortable, you’re doing it right.