How to choose safe comfortable shoes for your infant

Buying safe, comfortable shoes for your baby or toddler is easy and inexpensive if you follow these guidelines.

New parents love to shop for their babies: clothing, nursery furniture, toys, and of course, those adorable baby shoes that may end up being bronzed as a memento. But for practical use, health and safety, there are more factors to consider than just cuteness when shoe shopping for your infant.

Babies who are not yet old enough to walk don't even need shoes; warm socks, slippers or booties will do just fine. If you do want to buy shoes for your young baby, choose soft-soled shoes with plenty of room for all the toes to wiggle.

Once the baby begins to stand, support becomes more important - foot problems that develop in infancy can persist throughout your child's life. Shoes should be comfortably flexible in the soles, but rigid enough on the sides to keep the foot from rolling inward when the baby walks. Arch support is also important, as is a heel that doesn't allow the foot to slide.

The soles of infant shoes should have good traction to prevent slips and falls once your little one is running around the house. Soft shoes with leather soles are one of the current trends in baby footwear; some pediatricians and podiatrists endorse these shoes because they allow the muscles of the baby's foot to strengthen as they maintain balance.

Since other experts advocate shoes with more rigid soles, ask your pediatrician which shoes are best for your child. If there is a history of foot problems in the family, or if your child toes-in when she walks, her doctor may recommend a specific type of shoe to help correct the problem before it progresses.

Most experts can agree, however, on which shoes are to be avoided. Rigid high-top leather shoes used to be the norm for babies just learning to walk, but there is no evidence that they help babies walk. And trendy, adult-style shoes may be unsafe for a child, especially sandals with platform soles or wedge heels that are too high.

When shopping for shoes, always have your child's feet measured - they grow rapidly in the baby and toddler years and may have gone up in size since the last visit. (Indeed, most babies change shoe sizes about every 3 months, so check your child's shoes often to make sure they still fit.) Have both feet measured - most kids have one foot that is larger than the other, and you will need to buy the larger size. And as shoes sizes may differ between shoe manufacturers, be sure to choose the shoes that fit most comfortably, not necessarily those that are the measured size. Use the measurement as a guideline, but make your final decision based on the way the shoes actually fit.

If your childhood memories include having to wear stiff, uncomfortable shoes until they were "broken in", be aware that this is no longer the case - or even a good idea. Shoe materials have advanced in the last few decades, and there is no reason that your child's shoes should ever be uncomfortable. Also, look for shoes in breathable materials like leather or canvas; this will keep the feet from becoming too hot and sweaty, which can lead to other foot problems.

Another factor to consider in buying infant or toddler shoes is how well they stay on the baby's foot - so pay attention to how the shoe closes. If they buckle, make sure the buckle is secure but not difficult to use when you have to put the shoe on a squirming child. Laces are a good bet, as they can be double-tied, but may also be difficult to use on a moving target. For this reason, most baby and toddler shoes fasten with Velcro, which is both secure and easy to use; the only downside of using Velcro is that even young toddlers can usually also figure out how to use it and remove the shoes (often several times a day).

Baby and toddler shoes can range from a few dollars to $50-60 or more, but spending a bundle isn't necessary - or even a good idea, as you'll probably need to buy the next size up in 2-3 months. Good shoes for babies learning to walk really only need to have a flexible sole with ample cushioning; supportive sides; and a secure closure. And since baby shoes are fun as well as functional, keep in mind that your child would probably appreciate the ones with his favorite cartoon character on the side - so you'll both be happy!

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