wellbeing-brand-logo

Inspired living

All you need to know about your baby's feet plus a DIY baby reflexology foot massage


All you need to know about your baby's feet plus a DIY baby reflexology foot massage

Credit: Danielle MacInnes

Did you know the average person takes around 2.5 million steps in a lifetime? It starts with that all-important first step a baby takes from as young as 10 months of age. It makes sense, then, that taking care of your baby’s feet puts them in good standing for a lifetime.

Newborn tootsies

When a baby is born, one of the very first things most parents do is count their little fingers and toes. Their tiny toes (like the rest of them) will probably be covered in goop, which is a mixture of amniotic fluid and vernix. Their skin will have a pale blue hue and will be soft and a little wrinkly after floating in fluid for nine months. In a very short time a baby’s feet will be pink, warm and so cute their parents will want to cover them in kisses.

Within the first 24 hours of a baby’s life, they usually get a heel prick test performed, which tells the medical staff about genetic anomalies.

“Floor play is much preferred for developing legs, feet, hips and backs over devices that swing, bounce, sit and jump infants about. Their physical structure is not ready for those forces.”

It’s uncommon for babies to have feet problems, but conditions do exist. Club foot, where the foot (or feet) is usually smaller and faces inwards, affects around 1 in 1000 babies. Another condition, Metatarsus adductus, is a congenital deformity that has the same commonality. The foot is shaped a bit like the letter C. The good news is that both of these conditions can be treated and have good outcomes.

Babies are also sometimes born with an extra toe, which can be surgically removed, or webbed toes. This occurs during the baby’s development in the womb. The skin between two or more toes doesn’t separate, hence the term “webbed toes”. It can occur randomly or sometimes if there is a genetic disorder like Down syndrome. The skin can be separated surgically.

Did you know?

If you hold a newborn up they’ll automatically stretch out their legs and touch the ground in a scissor like motion. It’s almost as if they are trying to walk. If your baby does, you don’t have a baby genius on your hands; it’s just a reflex action that vanishes after a couple of months.

How is a baby’s foot different from an adult’s?

Babies’ feet are not simply miniature versions of adults’ feet. Jason McLellan, a board-certified pediatric podiatrist from Little Big Feet, says they’re made up of a far greater amount of soft tissue and fat. “Bone development is a gradual process, and at this age, the bones are smaller and softer with greater spacing between,” he says. “Some of the bones of the foot don’t start forming until three years of age.”

This is one of the main reasons why taking good care of your baby’s feet is so important. To help your baby, give them plenty of barefoot time and expose your baby to different textural surfaces.

Plenty of floor time is also beneficial, where your baby can roll, crawl and cruise (pull themselves along using furniture). Dr Angela Evans, a clinician in Adelaide and honorary senior lecturer at La Trobe University, says this “developmental gym work” is far more beneficial than devices that do the work for them. “Floor play is much preferred for developing legs, feet, hips and backs over devices that swing, bounce, sit and jump infants about. Their physical structure is not ready for those forces.”

Ready … set …

Before a baby takes its first step, they need to develop strength, co-ordination and balance as well as confidence. When your baby starts walking, expect tumbles, crashes, a few bruises and a little bit of frustration as your bundle of joy learns to navigate his/her way around. Being mobile allows your baby to explore the world in a whole new way, so make sure your home is baby-proof.

“The first shoes for children whose development is on track need to be lightweight, flexible and fairly thin-soled so the child can still ‘feel’ the ground beneath them to assist balance.”

Before a baby begins walking, many parents are tempted to hold on to their child’s arms as their little legs touch the ground, “helping” them to get a head start. But there’s good reason not to rush the process. Dr Jane Williams, the research and education general manager at Toddler Kindy GymbaROO and KindyROO Australia, says a baby needs to learn to use their own arms for balance to walk. “They [a baby’s arms] need to be held wide, out sideways from the body and they need to be free so they can adjust up and down when the body goes out of balance,” she says.

Walking unaided allows a baby to develop hand, eye and foot co-ordination as well as muscle tone and control. It also gets neurons firing in the brain, setting up new neurological pathways as they learn a new skill.

Early walking issues

When a baby begins to walk, they may walk with their tiny feet pointed inwards (in-toeing) or outwards (out-toeing).

Evans says in-toeing is not uncommon in young children. “As many as 30 per cent of young children aged up to six years may in-toe as part of development,” she says. Feet curving outwards (out-toeing) is far less common and usually rights itself in the child’s first few years. If it doesn’t by age three, consult a paediatric podiatrist.

A baby might also walk on their tippy toes. McLellan says it’s a very normal stage of a child’s individual development. “Clinically, there is an agreed excusal period for a child’s toe walking for the eight- to 12-month period following independent walking,” he says. However, if your child still predominantly walks on their tippy toes after this, check with a pediatric podiatrist.

Does my baby have flat feet?

Yes, all babies do, due to the soft forming bones and fatty padding. Evans says it’s perfectly normal because a baby’s feet haven’t been elongated and stretched out by standing and walking. “Young children are expected to have flat-looking feet, which generally reduces by 10 years of age,” she says.

Some infants and young children have what’s termed a flexible flatfoot, meaning the foot arch is only visible when the child’s on tiptoes or is sitting, but it disappears when the child stands. It’s a condition that’s usually outgrown but may also be from a tight Achilles tendon or bone deformity.

Barefoot babies

For a baby there is nothing quite like the feeling of cool squishy sand between their toes, or soft, lush grass tickling their feet! But there will be times when your baby needs to cover up, such as when walking on uneven ground or over sharp stones, prickles and other potential hazards. Evans says the basic function of early footwear is to offer protection.

“The first shoes for children whose development is on track need to be lightweight, flexible and fairly thin-soled so the child can still ‘feel’ the ground beneath them to assist balance,” she says.

Going barefoot is good for a baby, provided it’s in a safe environment. “Generally, it’s good and a practical idea to have shoes off inside to get the feet muscles active and strengthening,” she adds.

As your baby grows into a young child, continue allowing plenty of shoe-free time. Research shows it can help to prevent some foot issues. A British study of 2300 children aged from four to 13 showed those who wore shoes often were more than three times more likely to end up with flat feet.

If the shoe fits

Poor fitting footwear can damage a baby’s growing feet, so the correct fit is very important. McLellan suggests considering the following factors when choosing a pair of shoes for a young child.

The first is what’s termed a straight “last”. McLellan explains, “The last is the shape on which the shoe is made. Measure how straight it is by inspecting the sole of the shoe — ideally, connecting the centre of the heel with where the second toe would sit.”

Walking unaided allows a baby to develop hand, eye and foot co-ordination as well as muscle tone and control. It also gets neurons firing in the brain, setting up new neurological pathways as they learn a new skill.

A good shoe should also have a firm heel counter; this is the part of the shoe that envelops the heel of the child. “You ideally require maximum firmness with a simple compression squeeze … this indicates control,” he says. There also should be adequate adjustment options, so more than one Velcro strap or laces to adjust the fit of the shoe. Finally, the material should always be breathable and natural, with a length allowance ideally 8–15mm from the end of the longest toe.

Then there are socks to consider, which our experts say shouldn’t be overlooked. They need to be roomy enough to allow for the growth and elongation of the foot.

As for how often a child needs to be rechecked for the correct shoe size, McLellan recommends twice yearly for older children and more for younger ones. “Infants and toddlers will grow more rapidly than children and may require upwards of four size changes per year,” he says.

High-heeled infants

Kids should be allowed to be kids; they aren’t a fashion accessory for parents. Unfortunately, some companies manufacture products encouraging parents to treat them that way. A US company has recently come under fire for its new range of high heels for babies. Pee Wee Pumps has satin shoes with “collapsible” heels, some labelled “Swanky” and “Diva”. And they aren’t the only ones making high heels for bubs; other companies are popping up with glam shoes for the little ones. Toddlers are working hard to stay upright — why make their job harder? Wearing heels can impact on posture and comfort as well as put pressure on soft malleable bones. 

Caring for your baby’s tootsies

Bath time is fun time for parents and kids with lots of wet soapy cuddles, squeals and splashing about. Just like adults, your baby’s feet will sweat; bacteria can multiply and thrive on damp, sweaty and dirty feet. Lint, hair and fluff can get caught between a baby’s toes and can even wrap around them. When washing your baby’s feet, clean between each of the toes. Look for any tiny cuts or rough skin. Dry your baby’s feet thoroughly with a soft cloth, paying attention to between the toes.

Give their tiny toenails a little trim from time to time; ragged edges can catch on things as they crawl. Don’t ever bite your baby’s toenails (or fingernails) to trim them. Keep an eye out for ingrown toenails and make sure you cut nails straight across, not curved.

A tip on fitting baby’s shoes

The right shoe fit is important. Evans suggests tracing the child’s foot when they’re standing. “Cut out the traced ‘footprint’ and make sure it slides inside the shoes easily, with allowance for growth,” she says.

Club foot

We don’t see a lot of it in countries like Australia and New Zealand, but in developing countries club foot is far more prevalent.

According to the Global Clubfoot Initiative, developed to share knowledge and information about this genetic condition, the foot looks as if it’s twisted downwards and inwards. It develops in the womb as a result of abnormal development of the ligaments, bones and baby’s muscles.

Evans says around 80 per cent of children born with club foot are from developing countries where only 15–20 per cent can access treatment. Evans has been involved with Walk for Life in Bangladesh, where more than 21,000 children have been treated since 2009. “It can be a labour of love for parents as the foot is gradually corrected over some weeks, with a maintenance brace then worn during sleep for a few years following to avoid club foot ‘springing back’.” walkforlifeclubfoot.org/

DIY baby reflexology foot massage

There’s nothing like a relaxing, soothing massage to stimulate blood flow and help to calm your baby. Working upwards from the bottom of your baby’s feet to your baby’s toes, use your thumbs pressing down and then upwards with gentle movement. The reflex points on the feet (and hands) correspond to different organs and bodily systems. You’ll release any energy blockages and it will feel wonderful for your baby.



 

Carrol Baker

Carrol Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist who is a passionate advocate of natural health and wellness. She writes for lifestyle and healthy-living magazines across Australia and internationally.