How to Find the Right Baby and Toddler Shoes According to a Pediatric Physical Therapist

mother putting a shoe on toddler

The Movement Mama Dr. Kailee Noland Shares What to Look For When Choosing a shoe for new walkers.

I think we can all agree—baby and toddler shoes are the epitome of cuteness. But picking the right shoes for new walkers can be confusing, especially for new parents. We recently talked to The Movement Mama Dr. Kailee Noland, a pediatric physician therapist, on the Raising Healthy Podcast all about movement, milestones, and the importance of developmental play. In our conversation, she walked us through everything we need to know about baby and toddler shoes. Here’s her advice:

Listen to the episode:

Why Are Shoes Important?

Shoes help to build stability and strength but aren’t needed until safety considerations come into play. Dr. Noland explains, “Babies really don’t need shoes at all. Barefoot is best. Until, for safety reasons like walking out in the community—whether it be walking in Target, and we want to protect from germs, or walking at the park, and we want to protect from hot or cold or mulch or rocks. They don’t need shoes until that point. And even at that point, I love little soft soled moccasins. Really, the longer we can delay them needing shoes or wearing shoes, the better. [This] allows their foot and ankle and lower leg to develop in a way that they are supporting their own body. And everything’s built kind of from the ground up once we start standing and walking.”

She cautions against purchasing a shoe for your baby or toddler that does everything for your foot—even if you may be persuaded to do so from the shoe industry. Shoes like this may hinder your toddler’s foot from building muscle strength on their own, she explains. So when your new walker isn’t wearing the shoe, they may have no strength or stability in the foot or ankle. Opting for no shoe or a minimal shoe encourages the natural development of the foot.

What to Look For When Choosing a Shoe

When it comes to the elements of a good shoe, Dr. Noland has us covered. 

Elements of a good shoe

  • Flexible sole of the shoe (Hint, you can fold it in half!)
  • A wide toe box so that your toddler’s toes can splay out (This helps with balance.)
  • A slight lift to help with tripping (Avoid ones with really high lifts though.)
  • Includes a pull loop on the back for easy on/off
  • Includes a removable sole for wiggle room when your child is between sizes
  • Velcro so your toddler can learn to independently put their own shoes on
Photo credit: The Movement Mama

You can find more helpful visuals and recommendations on shoes in Dr. Noland’s guide: “Shoes for New Walkers: A Pediatric Physical Therapist’s Guide” on her website. In it you’ll find recommendations by skill level, common Q&A’s, and Dr. Noland’s favorite shoe brands for toddlers. 

What If You Didn’t Buy the “Right” Shoe

With so much information at our fingertips paired with the pressures of comparison on social media, it is so easy to get overwhelmed and lose sight of the big picture. Dr. Noland doesn’t want you to feel this way about shoe shopping. “Don’t feel like you’re screwing your kids up if you get a shoe that doesn’t hit all these marks. This is [the] best case scenario that we’re looking for. I like to educate on this because I think so many shoes are not made this way.” 

But there’s also many reasons to be hopeful about shoe design according to Dr. Noland. For one, with all of this awareness more readily at your fingertips, brands are starting to respond by creating minimalist shoes that fit these guides without compromising on style. 

To hear more from Dr. Noland, listen to our episode and follow her on Instagram.

headshot of Kailee Noland

About Dr. Kailee Noland of The Movement Mama

Dr. Kailee Noland, PT, DPT is a pediatric physical therapist and mama of two (soon to be three). She is a self-proclaimed baby and toddler enthusiast and is passionate about helping families incorporate developmental play into everyday routines and rhythms.