Baby Nails: A Guide To Cutting Baby Nails (Trimming And Filing, Too)

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

December 23, 2020 Updated December 26, 2020

Close up photo for the mother cutting the finger nails of the baby.
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 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.

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 do grow fairly 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 little 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 do not want any scratches they do happen to self-inflict 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 fairly 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 does make 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’re working up the confidence to cut those 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 they be drowsy, but their skin and nails will also be softer. Plus, let’s be real, 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 sharp things and tiny baby hands (and cutting a newborn’s nails especially) very frightening. But there are a few tips and tricks that can help.

  • Obviously, don’t cut your baby’s nails in the dark. Make sure to have plenty of light and that you are in a stable position.
  • You can get someone to help. Either to hold the baby when you cut their nails or vice versa. It might be nice to get a more experienced parent or a grandparent to help you out the first time around.
  • Baby nail files and baby emery boards are your friends. They’re great for finishing touches, especially if you don’t want to get to close to the nailbed with scissors. They’re also helpful while you’re working up the courage to pull out the “big guns,” as they’re usually not efficient enough to work by themselves.
  • Scissors and clippers are always your best bet. You are going to want to go with special baby nail scissors and baby clippers. They’re sized for those adorable tiny fingers, and they have safety features that will make the task a little less scary.
  • Make sure you’re stable and firmly hold your baby’s hand as you cut their nails.
  • 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 and uncomfortable. It’s better to leave a little bit of nail and finish off any shart 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 it up with some antibiotic cream and possibly 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.