September 29, 2020 5:48:01 pm
By Dr Suruchi Goyal Agarwal
The first two years of your child’s life is a phase of rapid development. Physically they learn to hold their heads and then roll over, followed by sitting, crawling and then standing to their first steps. Children start standing with support and then independently anywhere from eight to 15 months of age and start walking between nine to 18 months. Each child has their own pace of doing things and developing.
Around the time babies start pulling themselves up to stand or stand standing, parents contemplate the need of the first proper footwear for their babies. As we all know that bare feet are the best way for your little one to learn to stand and walk, there are some instances when shoes become essential. It is important that you take the following points into consideration before venturing out to pick up your little one’s first shoes.
Gait development in babies
Babies learn balance and coordination by feeling the surface below the sole of their feet. The sole has a lot of nerve endings which helps them with proprioception and sends signals to the brain and the balancing organs in the ear. This complex pathway of nerve ending learns through touch, feel and balance as babies step on surfaces, helping them perfect their stand, walk, posture and develop strength.
The shape of the baby’s foot is another important factor in balance. Babies have a ‘toe spread’ which means that their feet are broader in the front. This toe spread is extremely important in balancing and prevention of falls as it gives them a larger surface area to balance thus improving stability.
The bones in the baby’s foot are in a developing phase. They are still not completely fused making them very pliable to external influences. The shape of the foot constantly changes over the first few years. Walking barefoot helps babies strengthen their lower limb muscles and develop an appropriate shape of their feet and arches.
However, while letting your child bare feet may be the best option in the house, in your own garden or a safe spot at the beach, it sometimes becomes essential to use footwear for the safety of those little feet when you are out and about.
Keep these tips in mind when you pick up the shoes:
The fit of the footwear
Footwear should be fitted well based on the length and breadth of the foot to ensure there is adequate growing space. They should neither be loose or tight. Tight shoes or shoes that are narrow towards the toes will make the little one uncomfortable and cause pain making them wary of taking steps or make them readjust the foot in a way that alleviates the pain. The immediate risks are an abnormal unsteady gait increasing the risk of fall and injury. Callouses, corns and ingrowing toe nails are other issues that may develop if the shoes are too tight. Pain while walking also gives the toddler negative feedback which then hampers their self-confidence.
Pliability and flexibility
The first toddler shoes need to have flexible soles and made with breathable materials. The shoes should fit into the natural shape and move as the child moves their feet unhindered as much as possible. Shoes with hard soles will hamper this important stage of development.
Toddlers’ feet grow at a phenomenal rate generally to the age of two years. It is important to get their feet rechecked and measured once in six weeks to make sure that the shoes still fit. You may notice that their shoes will need changing quite frequently.
In essence, leave your explorer barefoot while indoors and if the area where they are is safe to walk on without shoes. Make sure that the shoes you buy are flexible, non-slip and their feet are measured both lengthwise and breadthwise with enough room for their little toes to breathe and grow while not being loose.
Happy feet lead to happy toddlers!
(The writer is Consultant Paediatrician and Paediatric Endocrinologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield)
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