Fitting your baby’s first shoes – do it right!

18 Dec

Today’s post is written by Emma Whittlestone-Port, a qualified shoe fitter for over 15 years.  Emma is part of the family who owns Frocks Away in Muswell Hill.   She is a member of the Children’s foot health register and is recognised for shoe fitting excellence. Frocks Away was founded by Emma’s mother, Wendy, in 1984 and sells women’s and children’s clothes and beautifully fitted children’s shoes. Emma is expecting her first child in March 2014.

My name is Emma and I am a shoe-aholic.

shoeaholic lover mum london

At the moment I am coveting a gorgeous pair of blue-suede-totally-impractical-heels; even though I have nowhere specific to wear them, I am sure I still NEED them right?! ‘Nothing new there!’ I hear all of you ladies shouting. Who doesn’t love buying shoes? So, why would it be any different when choosing shoes for our children? Well it’s not, so enjoy the extra excuse to shoe shop!

Getting your child’s first shoes is a fantastic experience, but it’s not without pressure. After all, shoes are the most important clothing item you will buy your child, so it is important to get it right. As a qualified shoe fitter I’d love to share some advice on how and when to buy your child’s first shoes.

buying childrens shoes fitting correctly

Firstly, let me explain that shoe manufacturing and our understanding of foot health has developed in recent years. When I was a child the materials and manufacturing processes of shoes meant they were hard and rigid and had an elongated stiffener, a piece of metal, in the sole. In order to combat pressures from these rigid shoes on soft feet we needed ‘ankle and arch support’. Today, new materials, manufacturing processes and a look at what feet really need has afforded us better options. It is now generally agreed, barring real medical issues, that feet are more comfortable and healthy barefoot – or as close to this as we can get.

This makes even more sense when you think about learning to walk. In order for children to walk it is important to master their sense of balance. This comes after quite a few sessions of ‘Bambi steps’ and falling on bums, and also through our sense of touch and feeling the ground as we walk. When coupled with barefoot freedom children are able to fully flex, and strengthen, all the muscles in their feet as they learn to walk. Remember, the muscles in our foot don’t just stop us rocking back and forth but side-to-side and every which way in-between. It makes sense we should be able to use all these motions, not just one or two and not be strapped into something hard and rigid. (Especially as your baby’s feet are actually made up of soft cartilage that gradually converts to bone as they grow. In fact the bones won’t be fully hardened until your child is in their late teens. Because of this, your baby’s feet can easily be damaged by ill-fitting shoes, so it’s really important your child always has the right footwear.) If you learn to think of socks, pre-walkers and eventually shoes as protection for feet from surfaces and elements it is easier to understand what you are looking for at each of your child’s walking stages.

So you only need to worry about buying your child’s first proper shoes when they are confidently walking on their own and have been doing so for at least 4 weeks. That’s not holding hands for support, but a confident movement across an expanse of floor unaided. And even at this point we advise that ‘shoe time’ is kept to a minimum. Up until then the best thing for developing feet is barefoot or socks, with non slip soles, and very lightweight pre-walkers for outdoors use. Any respectable shoe shop would make this recommendation and council against a first shoe too soon.

Once a baby is ready for their first shoes you will need to take them to a shoe shop that offers a proper measuring and fitting service. Your shoe fitter can then help you find the right shoe for your child’s foot.

Another thing to be aware of is how your child is feeling about this new stage. “Great! after months of frustration I can finally start moving around on my own and causing havoc. Then, you take me to a scary place, where a stranger measures’ my feet and straps something extra to it?! Thanks mum!” Cue tears! For you lucky few whose kids actually relish their first shoe experience, great, go with it! However, my years of shoe fitting have shown the majority of kids will find it an irritating, or worse, scary experience. A good shoe shop will be prepared for this, with toys and books to distract. And, we shoe fitters are experienced with measuring squirming babies and getting down on hands and knees to check reluctant feet! But it remains important for you as the parent to know what to expect!

get baby shoes fitting correctly

So, both feet will be measured, as we all have two different feet, and then appropriate shoes will be found to match their feet. I am also fond of letting parents know, a measurement is a starting point not a fact. Once we have measured we will try several shoes and help select the perfect pair for your child. Every foot has different needs and these will be met by looking at different styles, lengths and widths.

Once the shoe is on we check a number of things:
• That the shoe fits snuggly round the ankle. You do not want slipping at the back, this can allow rubbing and lead to blisters.
• That the toes have room to grow and space to move.
• That toes are not straining at the sides.
• That your child stays neatly in the shoe and doesn’t slip out when walking.
• That your child is moving as they normally would. You will know this better than anyone and can advise if they look awkward or impeded in any way. Do bear in mind though, as a first shoe, it will feel downright weird to your child so let them run around for a bit to get used to it.

Once some pairs that actually fit have been you get to the fun part – choosing! Here are some considerations…
• The shoe should be as light as the season allows with a flexible and lightweight sole.
• Choose a pair made of breathable materials, such as leather or canvas. However, don’t be put off by man-made materials, some have been specifically engineered for maximum breathability and strength.
• Listen to your shoe fitter, they really will tell you if something doesn’t fit and advise against it. Even if you love something, you love your child’s foot more, so take advice into consideration.

And here are some last titbits to consider when first shoe shopping and beyond…
• Once you have the shoes get them checked regularly. Every 6-8 weeks with babies, on average they grow about three shoes sizes a year. Continue to have your baby’s feet checked frequently until they are about four years, when their growth should slow to roughly two sizes a year. Remember as no child is ‘average’ its up to you to keep tabs on your child’s growth, go more regularly if its necessary. Any shoe shop will be happy to re-check the fit, but always take the shoes you want checking with you, measuring alone will not confirm the fit.
• Get every shoe fitted. All brands vary so a 4 in Clarkes is not the same as a 4 in Start-Rite or Bobux. Size and fit can also vary within a brand.
• Shop in a decent shoe shop with trained staff who’ll measure your child properly. If cost is a concern, try to buy their shoes in sale time and look for loyalty schemes, but do follow the old adage, put your money on your child’s feet, not their backs! Clothing can be bought rather cheaply now but it’s advisable not to scrimp on shoes.
• Always buy your baby new shoes. Second-hand shoes are not good for your baby as they will already be molded to another child’s feet, and the soles will have worn down to another child’s style of walking.
• Go shopping with an open mind. Whilst your mother, mother-in-law, great aunt or baby guru may believe a certain style or shoe brand is best, every foot is different and must be treated as such!
• Don’t get hung up on ‘ankle and arch support’. Unless a specific medical reasons dictates otherwise, soft and flexible is best!
• Shop at ‘off peak’ times. Small children are often apprehensive about having their feet measured so combining that with a busy shop is unfair on them. Instead try during school hours if possible.

shoes fitted properly children

So there you go – my guide to first shoe shopping.

I am lucky enough to be expecting my first child in March 2014. Whilst I can’t wait to get him lots of very cool shoes I will be letting him walk around on his developing bare feet till he absolutely needs the protection. Oh well, until he is ready, I’ll just have to satisfy my shoe-aholism by buying those blue-suede-totally-impractical-heels for myself!  Talk about a motherly sacrifice 🙂

muswell hill shop babies

Visit the lovely Frocks Away in Muswell Hill and ask for Emma to help make your child’s first shoe fitting a positive experience!


2 Responses to “Fitting your baby’s first shoes – do it right!”

  1. Maria December 29, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    Wonderful blog. I am expecting my first born child in February 2014, that is why I am looking for tips about what shoes and even clothes to buy. So glad I have come across this blog.

  2. TOM BALE July 23, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    Dear Emma,
    Nice to read your Kids fitting article which is very interesting.
    FYI, I worked in the shoe industry world-wide and shoe fitting was my important part of the job.
    I worked internationally with most of the multi billion footwear merchants, and I am willing to assist in case you need any advice etc.
    I edited a private book called: Fitting is the key to sales, comfort.
    I studied at Cordwainers and London College of Fashion.

    Best regards
    based in Canada
    July 23rd 2014.

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