From Pram to Pre-school – the three important steps to healthy feet

Small, soft and irresistible, pram boots are as cute as buttons, and make the perfect present.

It takes a hard heart not to coo over the Robeez bootees (£18) on display in the shop – a boxed pair of prettily-patterned mini-slippers, ideal for a top-to-toe look on a special occasion, or when the weather turns parky. As shop manager Tara explains, pram bootees are the first step in protecting a baby’s delicate feet.

‘A pram bootee is basically a leather sock with a suede bottom, suitable for when a baby is not being placed on the floor,’ she says. ‘At this stage, babies’ feet don’t have bones, just soft cartilage which can mould into the wrong shape if constricted, so the bootees are very soft.’

But come that milestone moment when a baby takes those first tentative steps, what parent doesn’t wonder if it’s time for something more substantial? And what is the difference between a pram boot, a Cruiser and a First Walker?

‘People are anxious because they don’t know what to do,’ says Tara, a stalwart member of the Society of Shoe Fitters, and no slouch when it comes to spotting a toddler’s needs.

‘If they go into one of the big chains as soon as their baby is standing up, they’ll probably come away with First Walkers but there is an important stage before that – the Cruiser.’

Once it was straight from socks or bootees to shoes, but strides in technology have resulted in the Cruiser – an important innovation which gives the right amount of protection while providing the flexibility required by delicate, growing feet.

‘A child starting to walk might be taken to the park and toddle holding the end of your finger,’ says Tara. ‘They can’t wear pram shoes – they won’t protect their feet – but nor do they want the heavier sole of First Walkers.‘

Enter the Cruiser – a moniker used by both Clarks and Start-rite – the second stage of footwear, for when you’re first up on your feet and taking steps on your own. (On average, a child is walking between 12 and 14 months).

‘The main point is that Cruisers – also known as Pre-Walkers – are very flexible,’ says Tara. ‘Babies can just about feel the floor in these and can still crawl in them too.

‘The child’s foot at this stage is a triangular shape. A shoe should match the shape of the foot as the bones haven’t fused properly yet. You can’t be stuffing your foot into the wrong shape and trying to mould it into a heavier shoe as this can hamper confidence and they won’t walk as well.

‘We want the bones to grow fluidly but I see people who have picked up baby shoes from a discount store – they’re usually an ivory wedding shoe – and the leather is so hard it feels like cardboard, with no flex in it at all. The child will usually be around 18 months to two years, often for a naming ceremony, they’ve been put in these very hard shoes, and they literally can’t move.’

Cruisers have leather padding, they’re comfortable and lightweight, with a bumper at the front for toddlers who drag their feet or prefer a spot of crawling. The double fastening higher on the foot is also recommended by Tara who reckons a T-bar works best in this style to accommodate the fat pad babies have on their feet – something they’re born with, and which goes away as they walk.

Clarks range of Cruisers includes Tiny Ben (£25) a pale green, grey and blue style with two Velcro fastenings, and for the girls, Little Ida (£26) berry pink with a sparkly gold trim, and a Velcro T-bar fastening.

‘Sometimes parents think they need First Walkers but those are really for second stage walking,’ says Tara. ‘Understandably excited, they come in – perhaps after a couple of days of their toddler standing – and say “He’s walking so he needs proper shoes”.

‘People aren’t sure whether to buy Cruisers or First Walkers so I put the shoes on them. The child will walk really nicely in the Cruisers, racing around in a flexible sole, but when we put on First Walkers, it’s like they’re wearing two lead boots on their feet and they struggle around or find it difficult to walk. If parents aren’t sure, that normally convinces them.’

Tara recommends Cruisers, which come in sizes 2 to 5 – for the first three to four months of walking. At around eighteen months, it’s time for First Walkers which serve until around the age of three.

‘First Walkers – in sizes 3 to 6 ½ – are heavier than Cruisers, and a different shape with a much thicker sole. When they go to nursery or pre-school, they can stand on stones and won’t feel it. First Walkers don’t have a bumper at front, which is for crawling, though they are still flexible.

‘Cruisers are for when bones are really soft, but the bones are starting to harden with First Walkers. By school age, they are harder again but not completely fused until the mid-teens.’

First Walkers, explains Tara, are like a normal shoe, with very similar technology to a school shoe. A baby’s foot doesn’t come in at the middle – it is almost straight – though that starts to change at around 18 months and the shape of a First Walker, narrowing very slightly in the middle, reflects this.

Fitting shoes for seven years before she sat her Society of Shoe Fitters exam, Tara can detect a foot problem at a hundred paces, and warns against habits such as passing down shoes between siblings.

‘Fallen arches, or perhaps a slight protrusion of the bone, means a shoe has moulded into that shape,’ she says. ‘Handing that on to another child is not a good idea.’

Fallen arches, for example, can be remedied with insoles but the frightening truth about poorly-fitting shoes is that the damage may not show for another thirty years.

‘It doesn’t happen there and then,’ says Tara, (rightly) proud of the off-duty recommendations the shop receives from an orthopaedic consultant who believes in ‘properly fitted shoes’.

Ogam Igam is the only shop in area with two members of the Society of Shoe Fitters, Tara and Amy, and Tori, our assistant manager, who also has years of fitting experience.

To those who say ‘Well we did all right back then’, Tara has a stark warning. ‘There are a lot of problems with people’s feet these days – bunions, the little toe out of shape – as well as back problems caused by poorly-fitting shoes altering the body’s alignment, and in some cases, it doesn’t hit until you’re older.’