How to Choose the Right First Shoes

Preliminary Research

I’m a bit type A, so when I started looking into what footwear is appropriate for my little one, I checked around for expert advice. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies do not need shoes until they begin walking outside. During the early months of their lives, it is actually preferable to allow their feet room to grow and develop. Socks are sufficient to keep them warm. Research cited in Podiatry Today suggests that it is best to select baby shoes that are sufficiently flexible. They should allow similar range of motion to walking barefoot. In fact, it appears that walking barefoot is what allows the arch and muscles to develop on a child’s foot.

Shopping for the first pair of baby shoes can be frustrating, especially for parents like me who are concerned about their child’s healthy physical development. On top of this concern, who wants to drop a pile of cash on something that your baby will outgrow within two to three months? Unfortunately for frugal moms like me, the Institute for Preventative Foot Health advises against handing down shoes from one child to another, particularly if they have been well worn. People wear in their shoes. They mold to their feet over time and get worn in the areas that need the most support, so it makes sense.

When Babies Become Toddlers

When my daughter was about a year old and began walking, her daycare provider asked that we send her shoes to wear at “school”. My criteria in the search was to find new shoes with good traction and mesh or leather uppers for flexibility. They had to pass a “flex test” in my hand and had to fit just right, so I did not want to order them online. I headed to the most dreadful place of all: the mall. That first visit was long, exhausting and did not produce the desired results, so I’ll save you the agony by sharing my lessons learned.

How to pick baby's first shoes for healthy foot development.

Trial & Error

It was still summer and quite warm, so I was looking for an inexpensive, lightweight shoe that would be as close to barefoot as possible. I tried all the department stores but they only seemed to have non-walking baby booties and slippery dress shoes. The athletic shoe stores didn’t carry small enough sizes. Finally, I popped in to Old Navy. I was pleased to find some cloth shoes with those dotted grips on the bottom, like you see on pajamas or slippers. I thought they were cute and I paid less than $10. After a good two hours of shopping and my child being ready for a nap, I was happy to grab them and go.

The shoes worked great indoors, but the little walking she did outside wore a hole in the toe within a few weeks. She couldn’t walk more than three or four steps at the time. Clearly these things were not made to last! The seams began to fray and the cute little cloth sneakers I bough were practically unrecognizable in no time. Finally, I decided to ask around and find a family shoe store. They can measure the child’s foot and make some recommendations. Asking around was the best thing I could have done: don’t wander aimlessly! Get help.

Start Local

We found a mom and pop shoe store and took our daughter as the summer turned to fall. We now needed baby shoes that were sufficiently flexible, durable and warm. They measured her foot and recommended a size. We looked at a couple shoes that could tolerate some snow. The goal was that they keep her feet warm and stay on her foot without cramping her toes. Ultimately we bought her a pair of low top suede Bog’s¬†to allow her mobility to develop those calf and ankle muscles. She’s now walking and even running all around in them and getting loads of compliments on how cute they are.

As she grows out of them this winter, I plan to order the next size up in a fleece lined version for extra warmth. What a relief to know her size in a brand we like! It makes me feel more confident in our ability to monitor the fit. No more long trips to the busy mall.

When spring rolls around, I plan to take her back to the mom and pop shoe store for another fitting. I think a mesh sneaker will work well for warmer weather. I want to be sure she tries them on before we experiment with a new brand. No more cutting corners on durability for a little cost savings. Of all the things she wears, shoes get the most abuse.

What are your favorite brands for toddlers’ footwear? How do you prefer to shop for baby shoes? Comment below!









  1. Leah Isaacson

    Robbies are the best for my little ones. They are leather which is as close to bear foot as you can get. My first wore them everyday no problem. The second has chunky ankles and they cut off circulation so she is bear foot or in socks with treads. Winter boots are a nightmare for my walking 9 month old. Everything they make falls off or snow gets in. Any suggestions??

    1. Tarsha Post author

      Great question! We bought my daughter, who is 15 months, a pair of toddler Bogs boots that are waterproof fleece with a thick but very flexible rubber sole. She is doing great walking in them, and they have a cinch cord at the ankle you can tighten to keep the snow out. I also like that they are rated warm to -4 degrees Fahrenheit and the signature loops on the sides on Bogs make them easier to pull on to kids’ feet. I’m not sure what size you would need and if Bogs makes them small enough for a 9 month old, but we have purchased the brand in size 4 (at 12 months) and size 5 more recently for the winter boots. Hope that helps!

  2. enannylink1

    We can never underestimate the MOM/POPS store….thanks great post the right shoes are vital for our babies


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