Infant and toddler footwear: Why is it so hard?

Infant and toddler footwearFrom podiatrist and infant footwear expert Antoni Caserta, AJC Podiatry

Yesterday I was sitting having a coffee at a corner cafe with a mate, a very proud father of a 9 month old boy Jimmy, who was being bounced up and down on his father’s lap. My mate tells me he has been eyeing off a pair of matching street shoes for Jimmy. I could see the question coming and it is one I am loath to give an answer to , “Are these ok for him to wear? I don’t want to stuff up his feet for the future because my feet kill…” I take a deep breath as the reason it’s so hard to give a concise answer is because we don’t really know the answer…

My general advice is there is a shoe that is suitable for each child based on the stage of their gross motor development, individual foot shape, the purpose of the shoe wear and personality. Barefoot is great but not always safe or practical so when footwear is required I have a few concepts I like to follow. Infants’ feet are short, wide and chubby. They get moved into all kinds of positions as a child attempts to roll, sit up and crawl so it’s imperative to pick a shoe that allows the freedom of movement in the shoe and just protects the foot.

As the child starts to pull themselves up, cruises around objects and furniture or attempts to take a few independent steps the first concept can start to get muddied. We don’t know if a soft sole or rigid sole is best, we don’t know the ideal weight of shoes or what materials are best. My personal advice has been to go with shoes that are well fitted and allow ongoing exploration of their environment and skill development. If there appears to be a plateau in this then discuss with a paediatric physiotherapist. A podiatrist can be involved at this stage if there are underlying reasons your child needs assistance such as concerns with instability at the foot or ankle, one foot looking different to the other or medical conditions that involve low tone or hypermobility. In these instances, the build of a shoe can play a role in this child’s progress but this would be advised at an individual level.