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Does walking barefoot cause flat feet?
Q: My 10½-month-old son is cruising all around, and I don't make him wear shoes. Well, my family says he needs to learn how to walk in shoes or he'll become flat-footed. When he wears them he fumbles. What's best for my son?
A: Darlene, letting your baby go barefoot as much as possible is the best way to develop your baby's feet. When babies are barefoot, they can wiggle their toes, grip the floor, balance themselves and push off with their feet muscles.

Some people buy shoes for newborn babies because they look cute, but they don't help the baby's foot development. The only exception might be if your baby was diagnosed with an orthopedic problem and the doctor prescribed special shoes. In fact, shoes or pajamas with feet that are too tight can interfere with babies' foot development. If your baby needs his feet covered to stay warm, socks and cloth booties are fine.

Get your baby his first pair of shoes when he begins walking outdoors. It's still good for him to go barefoot indoors, but shoes are good for outdoors to protect his feet from cuts and infections, and cold weather. Look for shoes that are lightweight, soft and made of flexible material such as leather shoes or canvas sneakers. Get shoes with skid-proof soles to prevent slipping and falling. Make sure the shoes are wide enough for your child's foot to lie flat, and long enough for a little extra room to wiggle and grow, maybe ½ inch beyond the toes.

It's normal for babies to have flat feet—most children naturally develop arches by 6 years of age. You don't have to worry about buying shoes with special arch supports unless a doctor prescribes them for an orthopedic problem. Remember, shoes are basically for protection, not for foot development.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician