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Ask Dr. Sears: First Shoes

Q. My 1-year-old's just started to walk. Do I need to buy her shoes now, and if so, what should I look for?

A. Though you can buy her shoes right away, it's best to reserve them for outdoors. When your child's indoors, let her toddle around barefoot for the first three months, to become accustomed to the sensation of carpet, wood, and tile on her feet. That will strengthen her foot muscles and help her learn how to walk on different surfaces.

When it's time to buy shoes, take her to a store that specializes in fitting young children. To find the perfect shoe, here are the four main features you should look for:

Flexibility

Typically, the younger the child, the thinner and more flexible the soles should be. You should be able to bend the shoe in your hand without much effort. Stiff soles may catch on the floor or carpet, which can cause a nasty fall.

Toe room

While your little one is standing, you should be able to press about a half inch, roughly a finger's width, between her longest toe and the front of the shoe.

Throat room

The area of the shoe just below the laces should crease when your baby takes a step.

Heel height and room

For beginning walkers, choose a shoe with no heel or a slight heel. When you squeeze the back of the shoe between your thumb and your forefinger, it should dent with slight pressure but not collapse too easily.

Most toddlers outgrow shoes before they outwear them  -- as often as every three months  -- so be sure to check your child's feet periodically for signs that it's time to buy a new pair: toes butting up against the front of the shoe, blisters, indentations, or red marks on her toes or instep due to friction.

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