Love them, love their feet…
Your child’s feet have to carry them through life. In fact, it is estimated that from the time a child takes its first steps, he or she will walk the equivalent of four times around the world in their lifetime.
Your child’s foot is a complex structure made up of 26 bones, 19 muscles, 107 ligaments and approximately 250,000 sweat glands. In fact, the 52 bones in both of your child’s feet make up one quarter of all the bones in your child’s body.
Footcare is important at all ages, but never more so than during the first few years of your child’s development. Good foot care will keep your child’s feet healthy and help prevent foot problems.
Your baby’s feet…
At birth, the bones in your baby’s feet are not yet fully formed and are mostly still cartilage. As the feet grow, the cartilage starts changing into bone and the foot strengthens and lengthens. However, it will take well into the late teens before your child’s foot is fully developed.
Baby feet are not miniature adult feet; they are shorter and wider in shape and taper toward the heel. Most babies are born with flat feet. This is because the arch has not yet formed and that foot is protected by a layer of baby fat . Your baby’s feet will grow quickly. In fact, they will reach almost 1/2 their adult foot size during your baby’s first year.
Help baby’s feet grow straight and tall….
Baby feet look so cute and cuddly but it is also important to remember that they are also very soft and flexible and therefore vulnerable to damage. Too much pressure can affect the shape of your baby’s foot and the layer of baby fat means that your child will feel no pain while this is happening.
The most important thing you can do for your child’s feet is to allow them to develop naturally without any constriction. Here are some guidelines to help you do this;
- Encourage your baby to kick and stretch his or her feet as much as possible. This will help develop their muscles and get their feet ready for standing and walking
- While sleeping or lying down, cover your baby’s feet loosely as tight bedclothes can restrict your baby’s movements. Change baby’s position several times a day as lying in one spot too long can put excessive strain on the feet and legs
- Babies and crawlers do not need shoes. They only need booties or socks to keep their feet warm. However, make sure these are large enough for baby to wriggle his or her toes without any constriction as tight booties or socks can squeeze your baby’s foot into an unnatural shape. The same rules apply to sleeping suits.
- If you buy pre-walking shoes, the shoes should be soft, shaped like a baby’s foot , have flexible soles and not restrict your baby’s foot movements.
Your toddler’s feet…
Most children start to take their first steps around 10 – 18 months. However, it’s important to note that all children learn to walk when they are ready, so do not force your child to walk. In the early stages of weight bearing, your child will be a little unstable and will use furniture, walls and even pets to help them keep their balance. They may even go back to crawling, if the distance between furniture is too long.
While your child is learning to walk and are safely indoors, let your child walk barefoot as much as possible. Walking barefoot is completely natural and allows the muscles and ligaments in your child’s foot to grow straight and strong. However, don’t let your child walk barefoot in dirty areas where there is a risk of injury or infection.
Your child’s first shoes…
Once your child is ready to walk outdoors or on rough surfaces such as grass, concrete and asphalt, it’s time to consider buying your child’s first shoes.
The main purpose of shoes at this stage is to protect your child’s feet. The shoes should be lightweight, flexible and made of natural or ‘breathable’ materials. The shoes must be comfortable straight away. If they need to be ‘broken in’ they are not the right shoes for your child.
Poorly fitted shoes restrict your child’s feet and can cause foot problems and deformities, so make sure the shoes are the proper length, width, depth and shape for your child’s feet. Take time to find a good footwear store with competent shoe fitters as they can help you select the right shoes for your child.
As growth spurts can occur at any time, expect your child to outgrow their shoes well before the shoes are worn out. Toddlers often require new shoes every 2 – 3 months, young children (24 – 36 months of age) every 3 – 4 months and children over 3 years, every 4 – 6 months.
You need to take the same care with socks as you do with shoes. Socks are not shaped like a foot, they are shaped like a tube so if a sock is too tight, it can place constant pressure over the whole of your child’s foot.
Once your child has mastered the art of walking, then the fun really begins. Young children have boundless energy and are soon running, jumping and skipping everywhere.
By the age of five, your child’s feet will start to look more like your own and growth spurts begin to slow down. So, the good news is that you won’t have to replace your child’s shoes quite as often. But remember, your child’s feet are still vulnerable to damage so you need to take the same amount of care, as you have done up until now.
Exercise and sports…
Exercise is important for children because it keeps their bodies healthy and makes them feel good. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise for your child’s feet, particularly walking barefoot, so as long as your child’s feet are not in danger of injury or infection from rough or dirty surfaces, encourage your child to go barefoot as much as possible.
Many kids love playing sports and are eager to participate. As a parent, it is hard not to worry about your children getting injured playing sport as sports injuries are quite common. It is important to monitor your child’s sporting activities particularly if the sports involve a great deal of running and turning or are full contact sports. There are also a number of things you can do to try and prevent foot and lower limb sports injuries:
- Consider buying your child sports-specific footwear to help protect the feet.
- Make sure your child uses the proper protective gear for a particular sport.
- Encourage your child to do warm-up exercises, such as stretching and light jogging before sports. This can help reduce the risk of muscle strain and soft tissue injury.
- Encourage your child to do cooling down exercises after sport. This helps to loosen muscles that have tightened during sport.
Identifying foot problems…
Many adult foot problems have their roots in childhood problems that were either ignored or undiagnosed. Don’t assume that your child will know if they have a problem with their feet. Remember that your child’s foot is soft and flexible and can be twisted and squeezed without your child even being aware of it. So use the following indications to help you identify whether your child has a potential foot problem.
- Your child’s feet don’t look normal to you or appear to have a deformity
- Your child’s shoes show uneven wear patterns or seem to wear out too quickly
- Your child complains of tired feet and legs or wakes up with night time cramps
- Your child seems to walk irregularly? He or she walks on their toes, toe in or toe out, seem to have one leg longer than the other or have knocked knees.
- Your child often trips or stumbles
If you notice any of the above or have any questions about your child’s foot health, then your local foot health specialist (podiatrist) can help.
Podiatrists are highly skilled health professionals trained to diagnose, treat and prevent foot and lower limb conditions. They care for people of all ages, treating any foot problem.
Their work includes routine foot care such as bunions, ingrown toenails, warts, corns and calluses; the care of lower limbs for people with diseases such as diabetes; the diagnosis and treatment of sports-related injuries; paediatric care and even nail and skin surgery.