Infant shoes come in all sorts of colors, shapes, and styles - but as adorable as those tiny little sneakers look on your baby’s tiny toes, are they actually beneficial to your little one’s development? Science shows that going barefoot can actually boost your baby’s development in many ways.
Although it recently became trendy for adults to engage in barefoot running or running with minimalist-style shoes for optimum physical activity, not much research has been done to focus on the impact of shoes on an infant’s development - but several studies conducted over the last few decades all point to a simple fact: barefoot is beneficial.
What does the earliest research say?
The earliest research on the impact of shoes on infant development occurred in the early 1990s. The first study stated that the best foot development occurs without the use of shoes, and that stiff shoes might eventually lead to deformities, muscle weakness, and restricted mobility of the foot. The second study, conducted in 1992, found that the use of shoes in early childhood had a negative impact on the development of a child’s natural foot arch. The study also indicated that the overuse of shoes in early childhood might eventually lead to flat-footedness.
Between 2008-2011, more studies were done to figure out the impact of shoes on childhood foot development. One study looked at the differences between soft, flexible, barefoot-style shoes and regular, stiff conventional shoes. The findings showed that barefoot-style shoes were far less detrimental to a child’s natural foot development than conventional shoes. A later study found that wearing shoes interfered with a child’s natural gait pattern and restricted range of motion.
So, what are the benefits to walking barefoot?
- Immense sensory input to the child’s brain
- Feet adapt by developing muscle and fatty padding
- Feet learn to adapt to walking on a variety of surfaces
- Allows for complete ankle range of motion
- Prevents low back pain and posture issues
- Allows for proper blood flow in the foot
- Reduced flex point problems
- Improves agility
- Strengthens a child’s balance
- Fewer instances of problems like ingrown toenails or athlete’s foot
If your toddler is just learning to walk (usually between 12 and 18 months), putting him in constrictive shoes can be detrimental to his development in many ways. Shoes can constrict toe spread, causing your little one to lose his balance easily. He might also tend to look down more, instead of up at his environment, which may also weaken his sense of balance as he walks. Wearing shoes often can constrict the foot’s natural growth, especially if they’re too tight or too stiff. Barefoot is also optimal for your baby’s sensory development. Your little one’s foot has hundreds of thousands of nerve endings, so babies need to experience the different textures and temperatures of their surroundings through the bottom of their feet.
If you are in a situation where your baby needs to wear shoes, be sure to look at the following factors:
- Flexibility that allows the foot to move
- Strong support for the ankle at the back of the shoe
- A level sole
- Wide front to allow toes to spread
- Lightweight material
Some of the most-recommended brands for early walkers include See Kai Run, Robeez, Pediped, Stride Rite, Livie and Luca, Ikiki, and Native.
If you’re looking for another alternative to bare feet, the KeaBabies Baby Socks are a wonderful option! They have been designed to be flexible, ergonomic, and skid-free - perfect for keeping your little one safe as he explores the world around him! Socks are another great option if you’re simply worried about your baby’s feet being too cold. The KeaBabies Baby Socks are thick enough to keep your little one’s tiny toes warm all winter long, but breathable enough to be comfortable even during the warmer summer months. They come in neutral colors and are easy to pair with any outfit!
Baby and toddler shoes are so adorable, and now they come in styles made to match adult shoes! While those infant shoes might be great for photo ops, it’s important for parents to try to allow their little ones to have plenty of barefoot time. Use judgment when it comes to unsafe surfaces - but for toddling around the house or exploring your backyard, ditch the shoes and let your little one run free!
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.