As adults, we choose clothes that match our activities: Work clothes for work. Work-out clothes for the gym. Dress-up clothes for special events.
What is our little ones’ primary activity? Play! Sure, your baby may attend your cousin’s wedding in a beautiful baby dress, but the majority of time the most appropriate clothes are comfy ones that allow her to freely move her body.
Let’s take a head-to-toe look:
Hats and Hoods
Vision development depends on your baby taking in visual information from all angles, and hats with brims (and some large hoods) can interfere with this. Hats and hoods can also interfere with rolling — a prerequisite to sitting up and crawling, and a key part of sensory integration.
If you’re out in the sun, forget about this rule! Hats with brims protect your tot’s skin from UV rays. Otherwise, soft and snug caps that stop above her eyes are a good option if you need to cover her head.
Jewelry like necklaces and bracelets can get in the way of movement, and may be potentially dangerous.
Consider skipping jewelry for now. If baby jewelry is a tradition in your family, check in with your pediatrician about safe options (like special backings for post earrings).
Tight tops may restrict your baby’s full range of upper-body motion, including reaching for toys. Tops that are too loose or have too-long sleeves may bunch up or cover her hands during movement or play.
Button-down tops can get caught on furniture and other objects when your baby starts cruising and walking, and could be a choking hazard if buttons come off. Buttons also make learning the basics of undressing and dressing tricky.
Lastly, watch out for potentially scratchy tags inside shirts, which can bother or distract your baby.
Consider tops that are soft, flexible, not too tight, and not too loose. Whenever temperatures allow, go for tops with short sleeves or no sleeves; your little one takes in tons of valuable sensory information through her skin.
Tight or stiff pants may make it hard to bend over, bend or extend the legs, rotate the hips, take wide side-to-side steps while cruising, kneel or sit cross-legged. Bottoms that are too loose may have drawbacks similar to too-loose tops: Bunching up or covering your baby’s feet when she tries to move.
Pants with buttons, snaps or belts can be uncomfortable and make a child less motivated to move. They’re also difficult for toddlers to manage when learning how to undress/dress or use the toilet.
Soft, flexible pants with an elastic waist that aren’t too tight, too loose, or too long.
Dresses can interfere with rolling, sitting up, crawling, and climbing.
Save them for special occasions and photo shoots!
When it’s safe to do so, we recommend keeping your child barefoot as much as possible (read why here).
Footie pajamas may keep your child cozy, especially if she isn’t old enough for a blanket, but during playtime they block the valuable sensory information she takes in through her bare feet.
For situations that aren’t barefoot-friendly, consider these tips for buying shoes: Choose non high-top shoes with strong ankle support at the back, flexibility in the front of the shoe to allow the foot to move, width at the front of the shoe to allow toes to spread and move, a level sole that matches the floor and isn’t too elevated. When it comes to playing in socks, opt for ones with grips on the soles to minimize unnecessary falling.
A Note About Getting Clothes Dirty
You probably don’t want your baby crawling outside in her beautiful dress at your cousin’s wedding. But for everyday play, the don’t-get-dirty message may lead to toddlers feeling reluctant to participate in development-rich activities like outdoor play, water play, or painting.
Play clothes from the sale rack or consignment store (and a bottle of stain spray) can help stretch the clothing budget during the busy early years.
A Note About Weather-Friendly Clothes
Outdoor play is a sensory wonderland for your child (and supports every other area of development, too). Depending on where you live, clothing including rain gear, snow gear, jackets, and UV suits and sun hats allow her to play outdoors regardless of the weather.
If your little one attends a childcare program, check in with her caregivers or teachers for additional advice about clothes that fit her daily activities.