Wednesday, 29 September 2010

When are the Europeans going to get with the program on baby shoes?

Just when the Bambino was starting to walk, we noticed that his right foot seemed stuck at two o'clock, while the left one was at twelve.  We found this to be a little disconcerting, and the Frenchman even starting talking about putting the Bambino in foot braces, eventual surgery, etc.

"But you need to get him in some real shoes!," our French friends all told us when we showed them the Bambino's pose.  This advice seemed so obvious to them that they were surprised that the Bambino, at thirteen months, was still in Robeez style slippers.  I had to explain that we Anglo-Saxons tend to view barefoot as best.

The "babies need shoes to learn to walk" theory holds tight in many European circles, despite that fact that orthopedists worldwide (including European ones) recommend barefoot or close to it.  In France, I'm convinced that holding true to the "they must wear shoes" view is a way of propping up the children's shoe industry.   And we're not just talking about any shoe.   Your typical French, Spanish or Italian shoes salesperson will recommend a shoe with a thick, stiff sole and a high ankle for your toddler, so as to "support" the foot, as if mother nature hadn't equipped small children adequately for learning to walk.

Even standard baby websites in the French language give this dated advice.  For example, Infobébés has a whole page on shoes, in which it advises to choose a shoe that is "high enough to support the ankle", that is laced rather than in velcro, and that is "not too stiff" (well, at least they got that part right).

Netenviesdebebes suggests soft-soled shoes for infants who haven't learned to walk yet but fails to consider the possibility of no shoes at all.  It goes on to say that once baby has learned how to walk,
on préférera alors des chaussures qui maintiennent le pied et la cheville : bottes, boots, bottines par exemple.
 Translation: we prefer shoes that maintain the foot and the ankle: boots or booties, for example.

Well, it took Europe about twenty years to get on the no-smoking-in-restaurants bandwagon, so I expect about the same amount of lag time for progressive thinking on baby shoes.

The ray of light: we took the Bambino to visit the chief pediatric orthopedist at Necker hospital in Paris, to have his crooked gait checked out.  The doctor said that we should just wait another year and the Bambino's foot will likely adjust to the right position all by itself.  He didn't have an opinion on any kind of particular shoe for the Bambino but he did say that barefoot was definitely best.

8 comments:

Esther and Brian said...

being european, or a typical european that loves shoes, i should say, i have my kids in european shoes only. only. however, i do have them in robeez shoes at home, or when just playing in the backyard, and certainly had them in those when they were about a year old. i can see both sides, to be honest with you. i personally believe that toddlers do need the proper support that some shoes do not provide. i feel really said for the american kids that were flip-flops to the playgrounds- it's just so dangerous to me...I absolutely love Aster, Babybotte, Primigi and Naturino shoes for the twins- amazing shoes...but Robeez has its place, too, for sure! Glad to hear that your little one's footsies will correct on its own...good news.

Esther and Brian said...

ok, i totally misspelt some words, sorry!!!!

The Globetrotter Parent said...

Esther (or Brian?), Flip flops are actually terrible on your feet. Not only do they not allow the foot to "feel" the ground at all - hence they do not develop foot muscles - they also force your foot to "pick up the shoe" as you walk, because there is nothing around the heel. Flip flops prevent a child from playing to the best of his ability on the playground. But so do shoes with thick soles. Assuming that the playground is dirt or rubber ground, a child will be able to climb and run much better barefoot then in a pair Naturinos or Babybottes (and my daughter has worn both those brands - so cute!). She is 6 now and she begs me to be able to take off her shoes at the playground just because, well, it's easier that way!

But I also totally agree that children's feet need to be protected from the elements when they are out of doors. Pavement is really hard on a bare foot because of the impact, which goes all to way to the spine. But this is a question of protection from the elements, not "support" of the feet so as to "teach" a child to walk or run.

Esther and Brian said...

i see your point, sure..and i definately do not disagree completely! my boys are not at the age where they want to take shoes off, they just accept what mommy does but i tell you one thing: they could not wait to take those darn $2.50 flip-flops that i got them for the sole purpose of going from the hotel room to the pool in florida two weeks ago!

oh hey, my other pet peeve: character shoes!!!!! Dora shoes, superman shoes--oh boy...:) :) do I sound like a European snob? maybe...

anyhow, have a great day! esther

Angie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

Thanks for another interesting post. I really enjoy your blog.
I get the "maintenir la cheville" advice all the time here in France. I even got it from the kids' pediatrician! I take it just as I take remarks about how I should get ready to stop breastfeeding because I can't possibly have enough milk for twins or how kids need to start solid food at 4 months to train their palates and so forth: I ignore it. My (incidentally French) husband has permanent foot problems and needs orthotics because he was constantly kept in rigid shoes as a baby and child. I was always allowed to go barefoot. I remember the awful feeling of getting back in the saddle shoes for school at the end of summer vacation...

The Globetrotter Parent said...

Sarah, the examples of advice your pediatrician gives is the reason I just didn't bother taking the Bambino to the pediatrician for well-baby checkups. It's rare that they know a whole lot. Once in a while I have stumbled upon one who is actually able to diagnose properly, which is in itself worth the other ignorant pieces of advice about shoes, breastfeeding, starting solids, infant sleep, etc. But it's so rare to even get a pediatrician who can diagnose.

Sarah said...

Wow, how do you manage to snub the pediatrician and deal with all the bad-mom stigma? I only do it in secret. The notion that there is one right way to raise children is so powerful here, and your kid's particular pediatrician is God. I'm not even particularly granola-y but I've still ended up feeling defensive about everything I do as a mom. Now I outright lie to their doctor because it feels like my kids will be confiscated otherwise: she believes they've been nursing on schedule exactly 4 times a day and sleeping through the night flat on their backs in "turbulettes" practically since they were born. Ha! If only.