Why do my newborn's feet turn inward?
Babies often have feet that turn in and point down – a condition called talipes that sometimes self-corrects and sometimes needs treatment. Our expert family GP explains how to spot it – and what the different treatments are
In a nutshell: It's relatively common for a newborn to have a foot – or both feet – that turn inwards. It's a condition called talipes. Often, this is something that will self-correct over time. Sometimes, if the foot is very curved or immobile, it will need treatment, which can range from gentle stretching and manipulation to putting the foot in a cast.
How can I tell if my baby has talipes?
Here, below left, is a drawing of newborn feet with bilateral talipes (talipes in both feet), next to a drawing of normally presenting newborn feet, below right. You can see that in the drawing of the feet with bilateral talipes, the feet look curved and point downwards and inwards.
With talipes, the foot points downwards and inwards, so the sole of the foot faces backwards instead of towards the floor. It's not painful for babies but it is treated because otherwise it can cause walking difficulties and pain as your baby gets older
What exactly is talipes? Is it the same as club foot?
Talipes affects about 1 in 1,000 babies born in the UK – and approximately twice as many boys as girls. It's a condition where the foot turns in or under – and it's not painful for babies. About half of cases of talipes affect both feet.
Sometimes, the condition can be detected during the 20-week pregnancy ultrasound but it's usually diagnosed after the baby is born.
If you are concerned about your baby's feet and ankles and your doctor or health visitor hasn't mentioned anything at your baby's 6 to 8-week check, then please take your baby back to the doctor.
Talipes is the same as club foot but there are 2 main kinds of talipes – positional talipes and structural talipes – and club foot is a phrase often used by non-medics to refers to structural talipes, which is less common and requires more treatment.
What's is positional talipes? And what's the treatment?
If your baby's feet are pointing downwards and inwards but are otherwise mobile, then your baby's likely to have positional talipes.
This means your newborn's feet aren't structurally affected but are 'stuck' in an abnormal position because of the way they were curled up in the womb.
In this case, the feet tend to correct by 3 months, but some sessions of physiotherapy may also be required. Your doctor or physio will probably also give you some gentle exercises to do with your baby's feet.
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What is structural talipes? And what's the treatment?
If your baby's feet are pointing downwards and inwards and their feet and ankles aren't mobile, then your baby's likely to have structural talipes.
This occurs because your baby's foot bones are not growing in the correct direction, and it is often an inherited congenital condition. It will need treatment – from when your baby's about 2 weeks old – to correct.
The treatment is called the Ponseti method. It involves very gently manipulating your baby's foot or feet very gradually into a better position and then setting this position by putting a plaster cast around the foot and ankle.
This process is repeated every 6 to 8 weeks in order to gradually move your baby's foot and ankle into the correct position.
Sometimes, a minor procedure to loosen the Achilles tendon at the back of your baby's ankle is also needed, generally under a local anaesthetic, to help the foot positioning.
After the last cast, your baby will wear boots, constantly for 3 months, to stop the foot reverting back. And then they can keep the boots off in the day but need to wear them when they are asleep – up to about the age of 4.
And yes, your child gets new boots as they grow!
Will my child be able to walk properly?
Yes, nearly all children treated with the Ponseti method end up with pain-free, normal-looking feet. Most children learn to walk at the same time as their peers and can manage physical activity.
Sometimes, if only 1 foot is affected, that leg may be slightly shorter than the other leg which can lead to them getting more tired during physical games and sport.
If I have another baby, are they all likely to be born with talipes?
It depends on the type of talipes your baby has. Structural talipes is more likely to have a genetic factor than positional talipes, as it tends to run in families.
As a rule:
- if you have 1 child with structural talipes, then the likelihood of another child also being affected is 1 in 35
- if either you or your partner had structural talipes, then the likelihood of having a child affected is 1 in 30
- if both you and your partner had structural talipes, then the likelihood of a child being affected is 1 in 3
Where can I get support if my baby has talipes?
STEPS is a charity that helps people affected by childhood lower limb conditions, including talipes or club foot. You can call their helpline on 01925 750271 (open Monday to Friday, 9.30m to 4pm) and/or join theirFacebook support group.
About our expert Dr Philippa Kaye
Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.
Last updated: January 13 2023
Pics: Getty Images
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