A Parent's Guide To Baby Nails, So You Can Cut & File Without Fear

by Lior Zaltzman
Originally Published: 
Baby Nails
Panupat Ratanawechtrakul/Getty Images

Cutting your baby’s nails is terrifying (we’ve all heard some nightmare stories), but so is what happens when you don’t cut them. Seriously, it’s as though they grow these wolverine claws that are sharp enough to draw blood! It’s pretty freaky. And perplexing — how come our nails never grow that fast and long? Not to mention, if your little one manages to scratch up their own little precious face with those claws, it’ll just about break your heart. Basically, you need to know how to cut baby nails so that you aren’t too intimidated to do it. Because the alternative? Well, it’s no fun.

Of course, that begs the question, How do you cut baby nails? Relax, Mama. Let us help you through this daunting parenting challenge. And if you’re looking for more baby content after you, ahem, nail this, we have pages on baby bonding, bow-legged babies, baby bouncers, and more.

Do you actually need to cut your baby’s nails?

The answer to this one is yes… very much yes. True, your baby’s nails can naturally file themselves while they’re exploring. However, those nails grow fast and can definitely cause harm to you. Any mama who has ever caught an overgrown newborn fingernail to the eye can attest to the damage those tiny daggers can inflict! But even worse, sharp little nails can be harmful to your baby. It’s fairly common to see newborns with scary self-inflicted scratches. It honestly sort of looks as though they’ve just gotten out of a bar brawl, but nope, it’s just a case of too-long fingernails.

You don’t want your baby to get any scratches — and you definitely don’t want any self-inflicted scratches to get infected. So, absolutely, this is one thing you are going to want to nip in the bud.

How often do you need to cut your baby’s nails?

Since your baby’s nails grow fast, your best bet is to cut them every week or two. Of course, every baby is different. Sometimes, your baby’s nails grow super fast and need a trim more than once a week.

What about baby gloves?

You may have noticed that some baby sites and stores sell gloves meant to shield your child from their sharp claws. While wearing gloves makes your baby look extra fancy, you really don’t want to overuse them — those tiny hands are discovering a lot! You could use them as you work up the confidence to cut their nails regularly, or if the scratching is still bad despite regular trims. Otherwise, you may want to limit the use of baby gloves to when your baby is sleeping. And even then, you want to make 100 percent certain that they’re snug enough not to pose a choking hazard.

When should I cut my baby’s nails?

Parenting hack? Cut your baby’s nails when they’re sleeping and calm. It’s great to limit the possibility of any sudden movements before tackling this task. You really don’t want your baby moving their hand when you’re in the middle of cutting a nail.

Cutting your baby’s nails after a bath is also a good idea. Not only will your little one be drowsy, but their skin and nails will also be softer. Plus, let’s be honest: The delightful smell of baby wash will help you keep your zen.

OK, so how do I cut my baby’s nails?

A lot of parents find the idea of cutting a newborn’s nails low-key terrifying. But there are a few tips and tricks that can help make the process easier.

  • Make sure there is plenty of light and that you are in a stable position. No good can come from cutting your baby’s nails in the dark.
  • Get someone to help either hold the baby while you cut their nails or vice versa. For the first time around, it’s a good idea to get a more experienced person to help, like your parents or grandparents.
  • Baby nail files and emery boards are your best friends. They’re great for finishing touches, especially if you don’t want to get too close to the nail bed with scissors. They’re usually not efficient enough to work by themselves, but they can do the job while you build up the courage to use the clippers.
  • Scissors and clippers are always a good bet. Baby nail scissors and clippers are designed for your baby’s tiny and adorable fingers. They have safety features that help make completing this task a little less scary.
  • Before you cut, gently push the pad of each fingertip away from the nail to make sure you’re only cutting the nail.
  • Don’t cut too close! You probably know this from your own experience, but cutting your nails too close can be painful. It’s better to leave a little bit of nail and finish off the sharp edges with an emery board.

What about cutting your baby’s toenails?

The process and timing are similar, but make sure to cut them straight to avoid ingrown nails.

What if you accidentally cut your baby?

Hi. Welcome to the club. While it’s totally understandable that your first inclination might be to panic, know that this happens. Just apply pressure to the wound and follow up with some antibiotic cream and perhaps a small bandaid. Of course, if your baby seems to be in great distress or you can’t get the bleeding to stop, go ahead and give their doctor a call. But for real, Mama, this little oopsie is more common than you think. So, forgive yourself and move forward.

How do you clean your baby’s nails?

The only thing harder than cutting baby nails is cleaning them. Well-kept nails are part of healthy cuticle care, so to make this process easier, get a small soft toothbrush. Run it under warm water and gently rub it under the infant’s nail. Don’t push the toothbrush directly under the nail or too hard. This could hurt the baby’s fingers or push the dirt further into their skin. As you lightly scrub beneath their nails, rinse the toothbrush after scrubbing each finger.

Are there any tips for newborn nail care?

Nothing causes more anxiety than getting ready to cut your newborn’s nails (although, admittedly, cutting your pet’s nails may be a close second). However, it doesn’t have to be as stressful as you think. Keep these tips in mind before cutting your baby’s talons so that you and your child can walk away unscathed.

  • It may seem easier, but avoid biting your baby’s fingernails. It’s not a very controlled method, so you could end up pulling skin and leaving a cut.
  • As newborns, the only thing they touch with their tiny hands is probably you. Still, it’s important to keep their hands clean. This will help them avoid infection around their nail beds.
  • Baby fingers need baby-sized clippers and scissors. Don’t use your clippers (or any adult-size nail-clipping equipment). It can lead to a bloody error, quite literally.
  • During your baby’s baths, don’t forget to give their little hands and feet a scrub. Even if their fingers and toes are immersed in soap and water, a little extra rub is a worthwhile precaution.
  • If your baby has a hangnail, don’t pull it off. Let it fall away on its own.
  • If you notice redness or swelling near your baby’s nail bed, soak their hands in warm water and keep the area clean. If it doesn’t go away after a day or two, give your doctor a call.

Why are my baby’s nail beds purple?

This could be a sign of cyanosis, which is when there’s a lack of oxygen in your child’s red blood cells. When this happens, their skin and other thin parts of the body like lips, mouth, earlobes, and fingernails may appear blue or purple. There are many causes like pneumonia, asthma, or other respiratory and heart-related issues. Seek help if your baby is having trouble breathing, faints, or sweating profusely.

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