Children's feet have important, life-long tasks to perform, so they need to be looked after well. Most babies are born with normal, healthy feet, and good care during their growing years should keep them that way.
Caring for your baby’s feet
There is a lot you can do to help keep your baby’s feet in good condition.
Tip 1 — Allow free movement
Babies develop muscles by kicking and wriggling, so never discourage this. Feet need to be free and active, not restricted by overly tight bedding, bootees, leggings or any other foot covering.
When your baby begins to crawl, they can do so barefoot. This will help their feet and toes develop normally. There’s no need to put any kind of footwear on unless it’s cold weather, or your baby is going outside.
Tip 2 — Make sure foot coverings fit properly
It’s important to regularly check that your baby’s socks and bootees fit well because babies grow very quickly. Something that fits loosely one week may be too tight the next, particularly if it shrinks in the wash. Be particularly careful of combination stretch suits with covered toes — even if the rest of the suit fits, the feet might be too tight (if necessary, cut them off the suit and hem the edges). Ankle ties of bootees should be loose enough to allow good blood circulation.
Tip 3 — Keep your child’s feet clean
Wash your child's feet every day with soap and water. Dry thoroughly, especially between the toes, so the skin there does not get soggy.
When your child starts to walk
Most children begin walking between 8 and 18 months of age. Some are physically and emotionally ready for that first step well before others, but don’t rush it — legs and feet develop best when babies learn to walk at their own pace. Walking aids are not necessary, and can actually make it harder for a baby to learn to walk as well as being a danger of causing injury by tipping.
When your child first starts to walk, they may have a tendency to walk up on their toes, or with their toes pointing inwards or outwards. This is quite common.
You should seek advice from your doctor or community health nurse if your child displays any of the following:
- Toes turn in or out a lot.
- One foot turns in or out much more than the other.
- Your child’s feet are turning in or out more than they were before.
- Walking independently doesn’t start by 18 months.
- Your child constantly trips or falls.
- Your child won’t put weight on one leg, or their walk does not look symmetrical.
- Your child has hip or knee pain, especially after running around.
- Your child is still walking on their toes by age 3.
- Your child’s shoes wear unevenly.
- There are skin rashes, bumps or lumps on your child’s feet.
You should also seek medical advice if your child has been walking well, but then begins to limp, waddle, or refuse to walk.
Most children are naturally active. Let your child walk at their own pace, and only for distances that they can cover without becoming too tired. If your child complains of pains in their legs and feet, it may be that they have done enough for the day. However, if they complain of pain every time they walk, it may be a good idea to have their feet examined.
Choosing the right shoes
The main purpose of shoes is to protect feet from the surface that you walk on. A baby that is not yet walking doesn’t need shoes. Even toddlers usually don't need shoes while they are moving about within the home.
Once your child starts walking outside the home, they will need shoes to protect their feet. Poor fitting shoes can lead to foot deformities, so it’s important that you get shoes that fit properly right from the very start.
Here are some pointers for making sure your child has the right shoes:
- Shoes need to be the right length, breadth and depth. To make sure the dimensions are right, it’s a good idea to have your child’s feet measured each time you are buying shoes.
- The shoe should fit the foot’s natural shape, especially around the toes. The toes should be able to move freely and not be squashed.
- There should be about 1cm room to grow between the longest toe and the end of the shoe.
- Shoes should not be too loose or too tight around the heel.
Avoid shoes made from synthetic materials, as children’s feet perspire and need to be able to breathe.
Children don’t always complain when shoes start feeling tight, so it’s important you check regularly that your child’s shoes still fit properly.
If you need help
If you think your child may have a problem with their feet or walking, see your doctor, community health nurse, or podiatrist for advice.
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Last reviewed: June 2021