As your toddler gets more mobile, it's important to keep an eye on her feet. Looking after them now will help to protect her from foot problems in later life.
How are my toddler's feet developing?
When your baby's born, the bones in her feet are made of soft, flexible cartilage. This gradually hardens over time. They won't be fully developed until her late teens.
To begin with, your baby's feet are quite flat. But by the time she's about two years old, you should be able to see what kind of foot shape she has.
Your toddler will inherit one of three main foot shapes from either you or your partner:
Tapered: her big toe is the biggest of all her toes.
Rounded: her second or third toe is longer than her big toe.
Square: all her toes are about the same length.
How can I take care of my toddler's feet?
Allow your toddler's feet to develop as naturally as possible. Let her spend time without shoes every day so she can exercise the muscles in her feet. You can encourage her to flex and stretch them by tickling her.
Socks or tights made from cotton, or a cotton and wool mix, will keep your toddler's feet warm while giving them room to develop. Regularly check that she's wearing the right size, especially if you tumble dry them. Socks can shrink, and if they're too tight, this can restrict how your toddler's feet grow. Even if your toddler isn't walking yet, make sure that any soft booties she wears also have lots of room for her toes to move.
You should also check that your toddler's bedding and sleepsuits have plenty of space for her toes to move around easily. If you tuck her in too tightly, she may not be able to move her feet around at night, which is bad for their development.
Wash your toddler's feet thoroughly and dry them well between the toes. You could also use a sprinkling of talcum powder to help keep her feet dry and healthy. Just be sure to shake off any excess powder so it doesn't clump between her toes.
Cut her toenails straight across to prevent them from becoming ingrown.
When can my toddler have her first shoes?
Don't be in a rush to buy your toddler's first pair of shoes. She only needs them when she's ready to walk outside, which is usually once she's already confident about taking a few steps indoors.
As your toddler learns to walk, let her stay barefoot indoors. This allows her feet to develop and strengthen without restriction. Just make sure that the floor is clean and safe.
What are the best shoes for my toddler?
Choose comfortable shoes made from soft leather, with lightweight flexible soles, padded ankles and non-slip bottoms. There should be a secure, adjustable fastening such as Velcro, a buckle or laces. This will hold her feet in place so they don't slip forward.
Buying the right size is really important. Find a shop with a professional shoe-fitter, who can make sure you get exactly the right size for your toddler. The shoes should come in whole sizes and half sizes, with a choice of widths, so that you can get a pair that's a perfect fit.
There should be plenty of room in the toe area, so your little one can grow. Even adults need at least 1cm (0.4in) of space between the end of their longest toe and the end of their shoe. Check her shoes by gently pressing the top of the tip while she has them on.
Once your toddler's wearing shoes, get her feet measured every six weeks to eight weeks. Children's feet grow, on average, two full sizes a year until they're four, and one size a year after that.
Shoes take on the shape of the feet that wear them. While it may be tempting to save money by using second-hand shoes, they may be harmful to your toddler's feet.
What foot problems should I watch out for?
Check your child's feet regularly, as it's unlikely that she'll tell you if they feel sore. Here are some common foot problems:
Blisters are often caused by new or ill-fitting shoes. If your toddler gets a blister, check her shoe-size in case her foot width or size has changed.
In the meantime, remove her shoes and socks for a while to allow the blister to dry up. Don't burst it, as this can cause infection. If the skin's already broken, apply an antiseptic plaster or other dry, sterile dressing, to protect it as it heals.
Ingrown toenails happen when nails grow into the surrounding flesh. If your toddler has one, it may cause the skin at side of her toenail to appear red or swollen, and her toe may feel quite sore.
Being careful about how you cut your toddler's nails may prevent them from becoming ingrown in the first place.
Cut your child's toenails, and her fingernails, straight across, rather than in a curve. Use nail clippers and file any sharp edges if necessary. Never cut down the side of your child's toenails or cut them too short. The corners should be just clear of the fleshy part of the toe.
If your toddler's toenails are sore, ask your GP or health visitor to take a look.
Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that causes a red, itchy, moist rash, usually between the toes. It's rare in toddlers, but it may be more likely to happen if you take your child swimming a lot. This is because the fungus thrives in warm, damp areas like showers and changing rooms.
You can help to prevent athlete's foot by dressing your toddler in cotton socks, and drying between her toes properly after baths and swimming. Speak to your pharmacist before buying any over-the-counter treatments, as some aren't suitable for young children.
Verrucas are small warts, often with a black speck in the centre, that are found on the soles of the feet. They're most often picked up at swimming pools. If your toddler gets a verruca, it's fine to leave it to clear up by itself. They usually disappear within two years.
If the verruca is painful for your toddler though, you can treat it with salicylic acid. You can buy this over the counter or get it on prescription from the practice nurse at your GP surgery.
Hand, foot and mouth disease
Hand, foot and mouth disease is a mild viral infection that's not unusual in children under 10. It can cause small spots to appear on your toddler's mouth, hands and feet, and these may develop into blisters. The rash may also extend up her arms and legs, and occasionally causes small blisters or spots around the nappy area.
The disease is also sometimes accompanied by a slight fever, tummy ache or sore throat. Fortunately, it usually resolves itself within a week or so.
What about foot development problems?
Developmental problems are much less common than the minor ailments above, and in many cases resolve themselves. However, they may also need treatment. So if you suspect a developmental problem with your toddler's feet, talk to your health visitor or GP. If necessary, they can refer your child to a foot specialist (podiatrist or chiropodist).
Here are some of the more common developmental foot conditions:
Flat feet is normal in toddlers. This is partly due to posture, and partly because they have more fat than adult feet. By the time your child's five, her arches should naturally be more developed.
In-toeing and out-toeing are when toddlers walk with their feet turning inwards ("pigeon-toed") or outwards. Chances are it will correct itself as your toddler becomes more confident on her feet. In most cases, in-toeing and out-toeing get better on their own by the age of eight or nine.
Toe walking is when a child walks on her toes, without putting much weight on her heels. It's normal in young toddlers, but shouldn't usually persist after she's three years old. If it does, see your health visitor or GP who can refer you to a physiotherapist.
Talipes (club foot) is a congenital condition where one or both feet bend inwards and downwards. Experts are unsure of the cause, but it's thought that genetic factors can play a part, as it sometimes runs in families. Treatment for club foot begins soon after birth and usually involves physiotherapy to manipulate the foot gently back into shape.