Why Does My Baby Have Webbed Toes?

by | Sep 29, 2017

Some new parents notice it right away after their child is born. Others might not catch it for a few days after returning from the hospital. What are we talking about? Webbed toes.

This condition is relatively rare, but perhaps more common than you think. About one in two thousand infants are born with some amount of fusion between at least two toes. Although bones and joints of any of the toes may be affected, the most common type of webbing is shared skin between the second and third toes—in some cases nearly all the way to the tip.

If your child is born with some webbing between their toes, it’s natural to ask yourself where it comes from. What causes webbed toes to form in the first place?

You might be surprised to learn that the question really isn’t, “What caused my child’s webbed feet?” but “Why does my child still have them?” During the earliest stages of fetal development, all of us had webbed feet—and even webbed hands! But at around the six-to-eight-week mark, a process called apoptosis is supposed to take place. A special enzyme is released that gently dissolves the soft tissue connecting the toes and fingers, leaving 20 distinct, wiggling digits.

However, once in a while, that process is never fully completed, and a child may be born with full or partial webbing between two or more toes. We don’t really know why this happens, although there’s plenty of theory and speculation. Children are more likely to be born with webbed toes if there is a family history of the condition, or if they have certain rare genetic disorders like down syndrome. The mother’s nutritional choices or smoking habits during pregnancy might also be involved, though that’s less clear.

At any rate, the good news is that, in most cases, webbed toes are a purely cosmetic defect. If the condition is minor and no bones or joints are affected, they should not prevent your child from developing normally or enjoying full activity. That said, more serious cases of webbed toes do need treatment, and surgery for cosmetic reasons may be preferred by some parents (or selected by children, when they’re old enough to make that choice on their own).

If your baby was born with webbed toes, we recommend you get them examined by our expert team at Southern California Foot & Ankle Specialists. We can determine whether surgery is necessary, as well as discuss any treatment options you wish to pursue. To see us in Mission Viejo, please call (949) 364-9255.