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What Is Best For Baby’s Feet?

By Jeanne Ohm, DC

Our daughter is one now and she is just beginning to walk. We are wondering if her first pair of shoes should be a sturdy hard-soled leather shoe or a natural soft-leather shoe? I had thought natural was better but her grandparents insist the first shoe is very important and should have lots of support. We appreciate any advice on this subject you can offer.

When my children were growing up, I remember those very hard soled, high tops your child’s grandparents are referring to. Although they were the most popular option of that time, we went out of our way to find soft moccasin type shoes for our children. Keeping their feet free to move and breathe as they were designed to be seemed more logical to us.

Since then, it has been found that shoes with stiff ankle support (high-tops) and those made from rigid materials are unnecessary and unhealthy. There is no evidence that they help babies walk. Experts now agree that the feet, like hands, develop best when they are bare, not covered and confined. Walking barefoot helps build arches and strengthen ankles. Even walking on uneven ground, such as sand and grass, is good for an infant’s feet since it makes the muscles work harder and actually strengthens and structurally develops the feet.

In addition to supporting the structural development of the feet by using soft, flexible shoes, there is evidence that the natural motion in the feet with soft or no shoes can positively affect overall neurological function and brain development. Except for the spine, the foot is the anatomical region which contains the most proprioceptive sensory receptors. These are distinctive nerve circuits which affect numerous aspects of brain and neurological development. Because of this magnitude of sensory input, natural, unrestricted movement of the feet is vital for overall neurological well-being.

In conclusion, the feet are designed to have maximum movement and flexibility in that movement. Selecting shoes that allow for that movement will support the healthiest development of the feet AND of the baby’s developing brain and nerve system.