Q&A: How and when to get baby’s first shoes

My mom got me to wiggle my toes, and it turns out her method of checking if new shoes would fit wasn’t far-fetched after all.

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It can feel like a guessworker for new parents as they wonder if they need all 18 pairs of booties they were given at the baby shower, if their toddler should be barefoot, or if miniature steel-toed boots will make their little ones safer.

We spoke to Manon Gauthier, buyer and personal trainer for shoe store Tony Pappas in Plateau Mont-Royal, who gave us some surprising answers about when and how to put shoes on little feet.

Let’s start with the time measurement. When does a baby need shoes?

We used to say, “You can wear shoes by the age of two.” That’s what we thought in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

In a perfect world we would walk around without shoes, but you know where we live: the ground is cold. We go outside in summer and it’s too hot.

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Baby snowsuits have foot covers, but it’s not quite warm enough. You need socks and small shoes with inner lining. It’s the same as wearing mittens and a hat under the snowsuit just to be safe. If they only go from a garage to kindergarten, none of this has to be the case. But when you go for a walk or do an activity, you need to have multiple layers.

We wear shoes to protect our feet from the elements and sharp objects on the road. Shoes are for protection. Fashion is secondary, however It’s cute to wear booties. Even women’s and men’s fashion have booties.

What support do you need? Is there a style that works best for new hikers?

First, they don’t need support. That’s the old way of thinking of my parents and grandparents. They felt that children needed very good support to prevent them from having brittle ankles or turned in feet.

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Now we know they need to build strength in their feet and ankles. You need softer shoes.

Baby feet don’t have bones yet. They only have cartilage, which is very fragile and malleable and grows into bone. All around are muscles and ligaments. Wearing stiff shoes all the time doesn’t build strength. By the age of three, they have bones that continue to develop into adulthood.

I train my staff to have conversations with firstborns to help them make the right choice. We look at the whole child and where they are in their development from standing to walking.

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For young hikers we recommend something very soft with a rubber grip on the front. When babies want to crawl and stand up, their tool is the rubber band around their toe. This way the sole of the shoe does not wear out and they do not slip. Babies who walk barefoot often curl their feet and walk on tiptoe. But in shoes, their feet relax and their toes straighten, which helps them find balance. If you have more balance, you can go.

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How do I know the shoes fit correctly?

We measure both feet to ensure they are the same size. Sometimes, but rarely, there is a half size difference. The longest foot wins (when choosing a size). They need to be able to stand and walk without feeling the front of the shoe and they need to be comfortable with the width.

Children under the age of two outgrow their shoes every three to four months. With older kids, we change shoes with the seasons—five or six months if you’re lucky. They often have growth spurts, but we don’t know when it will happen.

Leave about an inch or an inch and a half from their longest toe (which may not be the big toe) to give them room to grow. The best tool is your index finger, which is an inch to an inch wide.

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How do you keep the shoes with the little ones?

Babies wearing socks rub their feet together and the socks disappear. Shoes keep socks on, but they also help you later because you trained them early. If you don’t put shoes on them for a year, they might not want them. It doesn’t feel right for them to have anything around their feet and ankles. It’s not necessary to have shoes by the age of six months, but buying some will make things easier later on. And you complete her outfit!

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They grow so fast and shoes can be expensive. Does it matter if we buy them from thrift stores or use used ones?

They can share things with brothers and sisters, like slippers and rain boots, or fancier shoes that they only wear a few times. You can buy them at a thrift store, but for everyday wear it’s better to have your own good shoes.

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You need to make sure the back of the shoe is straight. The heels should not be worn or damaged. The soles must be as flat as when new. If you’re wearing someone else’s shoes and they’ve walked a bit on their side, you might walk like this.

Can we go back to the socks for a minute?

Pay attention to the socks. If they are too big, they will make the shoes tighter and less comfortable. Wool is better because cotton retains moisture and stays damp longer.

Many baby socks are made with rubber on the soles. This is not good because it gets very warm. Oh, it’s very hot. It’s also sticky, making it difficult to put your shoes on. They don’t need these types of socks once they start wearing shoes. They’re fine around the house, but socks won’t protect them if they drop a tonka on their toes, so shoes will stop some of them crying.

They will cry about something else, but you can protect them from the pain if they stub their toes. It’s extra care for little loved ones.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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