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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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