Oh baby, baby: Shoe-bi-du-bi-du, shoe shopping guide for babies

Humans are not designed to wear boat shaped boxes around their feet. We came into this world with the aim to walk barefoot like all other animals. The society we live in today, however requires us to wear shoes in order to get by in everyday life. Being barefoot is restricted to the beach or being indoors. Given how unnatural it actually ist o wear shoes, getting the right ones for us is important for the healthy development of our feet, legs and posture and for motoric development. This is especially true for our little ones who are just learning how to walk and run. Therefore giving the choice of footwear of our little munckins a bit of extra thought, is time well spend.

Tiny shoes look incredibly cute, no doubt about it. That doesn’t mean however that you need to equip your mini-me with a pair of Doc Martins as soon as they enter this world. While that is a no-brainer, we tend to struggle about the right moment when we should get our baby their first shoes. The general rule of thumb is: when he/she is able to walk independently, steadily and without challenge. That sounds simple, but is it? No, it actually isn’t. This simple „rule“ creates a million of questions and while I am not claiming to have all the right answers of the universe, there are a few tips, I’d like to share. Essentially your child will go through three types of shoes in their first 12-24 month (depending on their development).

When your baby learns to stand and walk, you should give your child as much time as possible without footwear. Thereby he/she can exercise the muscles and tendons in the feet. As a rule of thumb, it makes sense to restrict shoe to outdoor activities only.

  • Crib shoes
  • Crawling shoes
  • Walking shoes

Crib shoes

Until your baby is able to crawl, they do NOT need any shoes whatsoever. They are perfectly fine with warm socks. If you want to get them anything that ressembles shoes, because you just can’t resist, choose slippers that are made of soft materials only and are essentially socks in shoe form (click here for an knitted example or here for a leather option). To a newborn especially, there is no difference between their hand and their feet and they are only just discovering that they even have hand and feet and that they can move them and eventually control them. So you want to make sure, your child has all the wiggle room the world has to offer. The first year is all about being able to flexing and strechting their feet.

Crawling shoes

When your child starts creeping and then crawling, crawling shoes are great, as they give your munchkin supporting grip when they manoever through the room. They are also a wonderful helper, when your mini-me is standing up and cruising around the furniture. Moreover, they are a great solution for the transition phase when your child is making its first steps and are thus walking, but are still a bit unsteady on their feet. As it would be too early to challenge your munchkin to not only learn to walk, but to learn to walk with shoes at the same time. Crawling shoes are thereby the perfect middle ground, if they are made out of leather as that provides a bit of insultation and protection when you let your mini-me explore the playground. Your child will wear proper shoes for the rest of his/her life, unless he or she decides to live on the beach of a deserted island. That’s why there is no need to rush, to get your mini-me the first “real” shoe. Let them learn the ropes of walking by letting them walk outside on their crawling shoes or even barefoot. 

Walking shoes

The first „real“ shoes enter your childs world, once they are able to walk securely and with confidence. An unsteadily walking mini-me does not yet need shoes with a proper sole.

Children shoes are typically coming in three different catergories: slim, standard/normal/middle and wide. To make sure your child is very comfortable with their shoe, it is therefore important to know what kind of feet your child has. Just because he/she is very slim, doesn’t have to mean their feet are too and likewise being chubby, doesn’t neccessarily mean that your munchkin has wide (flat) feet. For the first shoes especially, it is therefore advisable to get them in a shoe shop rather than ordering them online. Thereby you ensure you get a good consulting on the shape of your munchkins feet. Simply getting the standard can backfire. In the case of your childs feet being slim, they would risk, injuring their tendons if they got too much wiggle room left and right. Likewise, if the shoes are too tight, you risk cutting of their blood circulation. BTW, the shape of your childs feet as a baby or toddler in no way indicates the structure of their feet as adults.

Make sure the shoe is not too low. It should ideally covert he ankle of the foot, to give your mini-me the right support and stability to explore the world. Thereby the ankles of your munchkins feet are protected. 

Another aspect is the materials used. It’s the first time in his/her young life, that your munchkin will wear shoes. By their nature, they are limiting the wiggle room for the toes and are somehow akward and restricting. Walking feels suddenly very different and your child might even be slightly set back in terms of stability, walking speed or self-esteem. Therefore make it as easy for them as possible by choosing shoes made of soft materials, like soft leather. While adults might be ok and even expect the need to soften up slightly stiff new shoes, your child will have none of that and simply decide that shoes are a painful and not very desirable new addition to their life. So while comfort and soft texture of the material are key, they shouldn’t be too soft at the same time, to make sure they are offering a great deal of support for the little feet.

Food for thought about shoes for your mini-me:

  • It’s summer, does my child need sandals? Ideally children shouldn’t wear sandals in the first summer they are walking, because most sandals offer very little stability for the ankles. Unless you can find a pair that offers that, it is better to let your child walk barefoot, if it is too warm for „normal“ shoes. If the ground is too hot to walk on, let your child wear socks instead. If it is too hot to be barefoot, it might not be smart to let them run around outside anyways, as children that just mastered walking still tumble and fall or stop to pick something up from the floor and i fit is too hot to walk on, it is probably also to hot to let them touch the ground with their hands or knees.
  • How long can my child wear their shoes? Your child shoes will steadily continue to grow, so you are probably looking to replace the current pair every 2 to 4 month. Baby or toddler shoes are not really the moment in parenthood when you can cut corners to safe a few bucks. So simply skipping a shoe size and getting a shoe that is a size larger than needed, is not a good idea as anyone knows who ever wore shoes that were too big for them. You feel like your feet are swimming in the shoe, you loose your steadiness and walking feels weird and clumsy. It is the exact same feeling for your little munckin.
  • Second hand or always buy new? With crib shoes, there is no need to get them new as there is no wear and tear. With crawling shoes, there is definitely a stronger usage effect, especially when children wear them, who are already cruising around furniture or wore them outside. Beside the overall look of the shoes, there is no performance based reason not to get them second hand. The first shoes for walking however are a totally different ball game. Remember when you tried on a pair of shoes of a friend who has the same size?
  • Laces or velcro? While laces look better, if you have a child like ours who figured out within seconds how to untie her shoes, velcro strips can help you safe hours of your day. Also climbing up obstables on a playground somehow seems to quickly untie laces as well, for some very odd reason. So I learned to love shoes with velcro.
  • Stiched or glued? Honestely, given how short of a lifespan shoes for babies and toddlers have in the first two years of their life, I think the question of longeivity is overrated. While adults might fair better in terms of getting a longlasting, high quality shoe, if they choose one that is stiched, it is not as big of an arguement with regards to a shoe that your child wears for about 3 month. Choosing a pair of shoes that are glued, might be one oft he few ways with regards to kids shoes that allow you to safe a bit of money. The equation changes, the older your child gets, as the lifespan of a specific pair of footwear in your household will increase as the growth speed of your child’s feet reduces.
  • Should I invest in waterproof shoes? I do believe it pays of to invest in water proof shoes. Simply because you are dealing with a curious little entity who is on a mission to explore the world. This includes puddles of mud and in spring or fall, might include encountering rain. Anyone who ever stepped into a puddle wearing sneakers, knows the yucky feeling of wet feet. Plus your child will most likely not have a gazillion of different pairs of shoes, especially given how fast they outgrow them. So do yourself a favor and opt for water proof leather shoes.
  • How do I know if my child need bigger shoes? Not every shoe allows you to adequately feel how much space your childs foot still has in them. Moreover, your mini-me is not yet able to actually tell you, that their toes are feeling a bit uncomfortable. You can track your childs foot growth every couple of month using a shoe measurement device. Click here for one with US measurements, click here for a tool with European and US measurements.
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