THE BEN­E­FITS OF GO­ING BARE­FOOT

Leave her pudgy lit­tle feet shoe­less when you can this sum­mer, and you’ll help her de­velop in so many ways.

Living and Loving - - CONTENTS -

Pot­ter­ing in the gar­den in the sun is al­ways fun for your tot, but there’s a su­per­sim­ple way to make it se­ri­ously valu­able, too. Just whip off her socks and shoes, and let her tod­dle bare­foot. Let­ting her play out­side with her lit­tle feet free gives her de­vel­op­ment a size­able boost – and it’s not just her feet that will ben­e­fit. “With noth­ing re­strict­ing your baby’s feet, she’ll have a bet­ter range of mo­tion and her feet will move more,” ex­plains po­di­a­trist and mom of two Tracy Byrne. “All the bones in her body are con­nected, from the tips of her toes to the top of her head, so the more she moves and uses her feet, the big­ger the ben­e­fits for ev­ery­thing else in her body.” Whether it’s 10 min­utes without shoes at the park, or an hour play­ing in the sand on hol­i­day, go­ing bare­foot is sur­pris­ingly good for her.

Soft tar­get

While your lit­tle one’s foot may just look like a smaller, chub­bier ver­sion of yours, it’s really noth­ing like an adult foot yet. Did you know that your baby was born with ab­so­lutely no bones in her feet? Right now, her feet are a mass of car­ti­lage that won’t fully har­den and turn into bone un­til she’s a teenager. “When your lit­tle one is around three or four, the car­ti­lage will start to split and har­den to be­come the 28 bones adults have in their feet,” says Tracy. “But it won’t fully har­den un­til she’s be­tween 17 and 19 years old.”

While many shoes are care­fully made to al­low for this process, hav­ing bare­foot time ev­ery day will mean your child’s feet have room to de­velop un­re­stricted, without so much as a sock or a nearly out­grown baby­gro in the way. “The mass of car­ti­lage means a child’s feet are soft and pli­able, and eas­ily take on the form of a shoe or tight sleep­suit,” says Tracy. “What hap­pens in these early years shapes your child’s life­long foot health. By hav­ing bare­foot time, you’ll en­sure those masses of spongy car­ti­lage don’t take on the shape of a shoe.”

Flat feet

Look at your lit­tle one’s feet. They should look like in­verted tri­an­gles, nar­row at the heels with the cutest, chub­bi­est toes. Look closely when she’s stand­ing up, and you’ll also see she doesn’t have arches on the bot­tom of her feet. “Most ba­bies are born with flat feet,” ex­plains Tracy. “The struc­ture of the plan­tar fas­cia con­nec­tive tis­sue – which is like the can­tilever bridge in an adult’s arch – isn’t yet de­vel­oped, and there’s lots of fatty pad­ding for pro­tec­tion.” Try kiss­ing your baby’s feet and you’ll be able to feel those fat lit­tle pads on the un­der­side of her feet. Her arches will be­come de­fined when she’s around two-and-a-half years old, and bare­foot time will help their de­vel­op­ment.

Growth spurt

Your tot’s body grows in fits and spurts, and her feet are no dif­fer­ent. “Over­all, her feet will grow around 2cm a year from birth un­til she’s two,” says Tracy. “From the age of two-and-a-half un­til five, growth slows to 1 to 2cm a year.” Now, 2cm is a lot, and there are all sorts of dif­fer­ent el­e­ments in her feet that need to stretch and grow, such as ten­dons, lig­a­ments and mus­cles. “The more your tot is on her feet, prefer­ably bare­foot, the stronger all this soft tis­sue will be,” says Tracy.

Bal­anc­ing act

As she tod­dles around your liv­ing room, hold­ing onto the couch, and slowly starts strut­ting her stuff and learn­ing to run, your lit­tle one is de­vel­op­ing her bal­ance. “Stud­ies show that tod­dlers who wear shoes early on tend to look down as they walk, be­cause they need to see where their feet are go­ing. When she’s bare­foot, your child will de­velop her pro­pri­o­cep­tion – the abil­ity to feel where her feet are in re­la­tion to the ground without hav­ing to look at them. Be­cause she can feel the ground be­neath her, she’ll tend to keep her head up

more, look for­ward and con­cen­trate on ac­tu­ally walk­ing rather than what she’s walk­ing on,” says Tracy. “That really helps with bal­ance.”

Nat­u­ral strength

As the bones in her feet start to har­den and she be­comes an ex­pert walker, your lit­tle one’s feet grow stronger. “Chil­dren who go bare­foot will have stronger feet than lit­tle ones who don’t,” says Tracy. “This is be­cause her shoes do some of the work for her. For ex­am­ple, when your young­ster is walk­ing up­hill in shoes, the grips on the soles will help her. If she climbs that slope bare­foot, she’ll have to use the strength in her legs in­stead. Re­search has also found go­ing bare­foot re­sults in a wider range of hip move­ment.”

So, when­ever you find your­self in a safe en­vi­ron­ment with 10 min­utes to spare, whip off those socks and shoes. She’ll love the added sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence she gets from feel­ing the tex­tures and tem­per­a­tures be­neath her feet, and you’ll en­joy know­ing you’re help­ing her de­vel­op­ment without lift­ing a fin­ger. LL

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