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You’ve probably had “baby shoes” for a long time, those soft-soled slip-ons for when it gets chilly in the stroller, but now your little one walks independently and it’s time to purchase the first real toddler shoes.

Your baby has started walking — woohoo! It’s usually just two or three steps at first, but when it happens, parents are on cloud nine. Who wouldn't be? Walking is one of the main and most anticipated developmental milestones a child will experience, after all. Now you’re probably thinking about which shoes to buy. Which type will offer the most stability, and help your child’s feet develop properly?

We all want the best for our children. Well, most of us do, except perhaps some nut cases, but this is another topic. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your little one healthy and on her feet. Perhaps this is the reason why some parents insist on using a baby walker, or walk with their little ones hand in hand.

When a child is born, her feet are mostly made of fat and a soft and flexible material called cartilage. As she grows — with the help of calcium — the cartilage slowly turns into bones. This process is called ossification and lasts many years, but it is mostly complete by the age of 20. Wearing improper shoes at the very beginning of this developmental journey can divert feet from what would be their normal growth, limit the natural movement of joints, and cause their misalignment. [1]

Should my child wear shoes inside the house?

When it comes to walking around the house wearing shoes, expert opinions are divided. Some pediatricians consider less to be better when it comes to babies and shoes, and recommend spending time in footwear only when absolutely necessary — when a child goes outside, where he could possibly harm his feet.

According to studies, the long-term use of shoes causes major anatomical and functional changes of the foot, including reduced width and spreading under a load mainly because of the constraints of the footwear. [2]

In fact, some cultures never use footwear indoors. Emerging evidence has shown that barefoot contact with the Earth (called grounding) can be an effective way to battle stress, pain, inflammations, insomnia, hypercoagulable blood, and disturbed HRV, as well as common cardiovascular diseases. [3]

When a child is learning to walk, she receives sensory information from the soles of her feet [4]. Also, proper foot development is important for motor learning in children as it means more stability and proper bipedal locomotion. [5]

A child who is learning to walk should spend most of the time around the house barefoot or in anti-slip socks, those with rubbery dots on the bottom that prevent children from falling. A lot of research has been done on anti-slip socks, and it’s definite — they can prevent many fall-rated injuries in children, as well as elderly people, the two groups most prone to falls. [6]

Some crafty people refuse to buy these socks, and make them themselves by putting small dots on the bottom of the regular socks with fabric paint or a hot glue gun.

Things to have in mind when buying the first pair of shoes

When going outside, a child should wear flexible shoes that allow normal foot movement. Avoid buying stiff shoes with hard soles, no matter how recommended and liked they once were. Just imagine hiking in clogs and you’ll get it. Wearing shoes helps protect our feet from injuries, the heat, and the cold, but shoes shouldn't constrict our movement.

Expensive doesn't always mean the best. When hunting for your first baby shoes, keep a few things in mind:

  • This one is obvious — shoes should fit your child in both length and width. All toddlers won’t wear the same size when it comes to their first shoes. Babies grow at different rates, and chubbier children may require wider shoes than smaller children.
  • Ensure that the shoes offer plenty of room for the toes.
  • The front of the shoe should be wider than the heel to mimic the natural shape of the foot.
  • Soles are kind of a big deal — they should be flat, flexible, and able to bend near the toes.
  • Make sure that the shoes you purchase have fasteners or laces to prevent the foot from moving too much inside the shoe.

Shoes that are too small can restrict feet from growing, but footwear that is too big can cause harm too — blisters, instability, and falls. If a child “grips” the inside of the shoes with his toes in order to be able to walk, it can lead to deformities such as claw or hammer toes. [7]

Is it okay to hand shoes down?

Small children outgrow their clothes and footwear extremely fast, in a couple of months at most, so people wonder if it’s okay to reuse shoes once bought for the older children or handed down from family and friends. I wouldn't skimp on the very first pair, just to be on the safe side, but I know how important it is for many families to save money for the million little things we all need.

It is fine to reuse shoes that fit well and are not worn out (they look almost new). Pre-walkers can use shoes from their older siblings without problems, but as soon as they start walking individually, try to purchase shoes that are their very own because footwear tends to conform to the shape of the foot of the person wearing them, and your second child will probably have a different foot shape than his older sibling. [8]

To realize the importance of purchasing good shoes, it’s good to know that the average toddler takes more than two thousand steps per hour, and older children up to 16 thousand a day. [910] Take care of your little ones, because 98 percent of babies are born with healthy feet, and 12 percent of adult have problems related to foot health [11]. We ruin them somewhere along the way.

Here you can read more about when you can expect your child to walk on her own, the potential dangers of using a baby walker, and some safe ways to help your baby learn to walk.