Updated: May 15, 2020
Is there anything cuter than a pair of baby feet? These
squishy, little wiggly toes are as lovable as they are important. From the very first kicks in-utero through 12 months after birth, these feet are growing and developing for a purpose- to bear weight for walking! Proper foot development is vital to life. They have to be functional to support weight for standing, walking, running, and jumping for the next 80+ years. Any pathological issue with the foot will affect any other body part (spine, hips, knees, etc.) involved in standing and walking.
At birth, the bones are primarily cartilaginous and soft. This is what gives baby feet that lovable, squishy feeling. Over the first 2 years, the “bones” are malleable. They gradually begin to ossify (turn into harder bone) in response to the forces applied to them. In the first several years, the soft “bones” are very vulnerable to any restriction placed on them. While the bones do not fully develop until closer to 18, the biggest period of change occurs during the first couple years of life. For this reason, it is important to monitor what we are putting on our babies’ feet!
Did you know that by 12 months your baby’s feet are 50% of the length they will be as a full-grown adult!! This is a lot of growth in a very short period of time.
Do babies need shoes?
No! The primary purpose of shoes is to the protect the feet and babies are not walking. Shoes and even tight-fitting socks can change restrict and change the develop of the feet. Feet should be allowed to move and explore to develop proper mechanics, not submit to forces imposed on them by shoes. Shoes can prevent babies from strengthening the smaller muscles in their feet which are vital to proper foot development. If you must cover them, make sure the socks and shoes have plenty of room for the toes to move.
What should they wear once they start walking?
Once your little one is just starting to stand and take steps, it is best to keep their feet bare as often as possible. Not only does this allow the bones, muscles, and foot structures to develop properly, but also allows their sensory system to explore different surfaces from a variety of carpets, hard floors, or soft grass. Barefoot walking allows the muscles to strengthen in the foot as well as around the ankle.
When they start walking more out in public and you need a shoe to protect their feet, make sure the shoes fit properly with plenty of room. Shoes should:
Not be too tight or restricting, especially at the toes
Should be flexible and light weight made of leather, mesh, or another breathable fabric
Have a non-skid rubber sole to prevent slipping
Why are my baby’s feet flat?
Babies are born with a fat pad in their foot under the medial longitudinal arch. This arch in the foot is identifiable through imaging studies, but is not fully formed. When babies first start standing and walking, the foot is actually a rectangular pattern. Babies tend to put more weight into the front part of the foot, even with the whole foot on the ground. As they progress with walking, children begin to develop a “heel strike”, a phase of gait when the heel is the first part to touch the ground. Around the age of 2 even though their arches will begin to form and be more visible, they will not be fully formed for several more years.
While new walkers and toddlers naturally have “flat feet”, there are times when they are too flat and not able to properly support the body. A child may need more support if they appear to be in pain, tend to "roll" their ankles, seem unstable at the ankles, or is not symmetric with movements. If you have any concerns about your child's feet please consult a medical professional trained in foot development and care.
Strategies to help baby’s feet develop:
Bring them together for foot to foot contact, gently clapping the feet while singing a song
When your baby is on their back, put their feet on the floor for them to feel
Give the feet something to push against just like they did in mom's belly
Gently massage the feet during or after bath time
By 4 months, babies are able to reach their knees when on their backs. Show them their feet and if they can bring their feet to their hands
By 5 months, babies can usually reach and grab their own toes. Let them spend time without their feet covered to explore their feet through touching and seeing them
By 6 months, they are usually able to get toes to mouth. This is great for exploring them but also allows for their hamstrings to grow in preparation for standing
When playing on the floor or doing diaper changes, put their feet flat on the floor with knees bent and let them lift their butts into a bridge
During diaper changes bring their feet to their hands or mouth to encourage exploration
Put different types of socks on their feet or some fun baby-safe bells for them to explore different textures and sounds with movement
This is the age they usually are really starting to move and climb, let them climb over little objects pushing with their feet
Give them different surfaces to push off of
Let them explore different textures with
Sing songs and explore their feet such as “This little piggy”
As they start standing and walking, allow lots of time bare footed
In standing, have them shift side to side reaching for toys. Can stand at different surfaces especially flat surfaces like a refrigerator or a glass door
Have them do a lot of squatting without shoes to help strengthen feet
Can teach them new ways to play with toys using their feet
Let them explore different surfaces or textures barefoot