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How To: Clip Baby's Nails

Katlyn Joy |22, January 2013


It's a universal post-birth moment: checking the baby. Yep, 7...8...9...10 fingers and toes. Then, wow! How is it that someone only minutes old already needs a manicure?

Babies often are born with long fingernails and those nails are terrifying tiny to parents. It can be hard not to tremble as you approach those matchstick-sized nails with a sharp instrument.

You only have two options however. You can keep baby in mittens or infant gowns with sleeves that can be folded over those dangerously taloned fingers. Or you can be the grown up you must now become and learn to safely trim baby's long nails.

Newborn babies' nails will keep growing at rapid pace. Count on trimming them a couple times a week for awhile. The first few weeks of life you may need to cut them even more than that.

Toenails may need a trim soon after birth, but afterwards their growth will slow compared to the fingernails. Toenails may be surrounded by what seems excess skin making the trimming process more difficult. Don't worry that this means ingrown nails, which is rare in babies. Just trim the toenails straight across.

Babies will flail and invariably swipe at their own and others' faces. It's important to keep the nails short to protect baby, and yourself, from scratches and cuts.

How to Cut Baby's Nails Safely and Almost Easily

1. First of all, try to relax. You are not performing a circumcision or tonsillectomy. The first few times will be scary for you, but before long, with all the practice you'll be getting, you will be a pro.

2. For the first time or time, you may want to enlist a partner because you may feel overwhelmed and the process not quite natural.

3. Choose a good place to trim the nails. This will be a comfy place with good lighting.

4. Use the right instrument. You can't use regular clippers on a baby; don't even attempt to cut the nails with anything but clippers or scissors that are made especially for baby nails. Some even have a built in magnifier, an option that will definitely come in handy.

5. Position baby on your lap and have someone else hold baby's hand. Or you can hold baby's hand in one of yours while doing the trimming with the other.

6. To avoid injury, depress the pad of baby's finger to pull it away from the nail.

7. Trim following the natural curve of the nail, being careful to not nip down into the quick. You can always cut them shorter if you need to.

8. To make it easier, many parents choose to trim nails when baby is in a deep sleep, so that baby doesn't stir with touch. If that's a no go, then let your assistant keep baby busy with silly voices, playing with toys or some other antics.

9. If you are too squeamish and you don't have enough outfits that will cover baby's hands, elect to use a mini emery board and carefully file down the nails to a safe length.

10. Remember it's best to always have clean hands whenever you do any hygiene related duties for baby. And to avoid germiness, please don't follow grandma's advice and try to tear the nails or bite them shorter yourself. Tearing will risk overdoing it and biting them will expose baby to germs unnecessarily.

Should the Worst Happen

You accidently nip baby's skin along with nails and baby wails in pain, you both are likely to end up tear-soaked. But it is not an ominous sign that you are a terrible mother! It does happen to pretty much everyone and yet babies worldwide survive this catastrophe. Just use a sterile gauze pad to blot the bleeding and then apply a little dab of antibiotic ointment. Do not cover the tiny wound with a bandage however. Baby will put fingers in mouth and possibly choke on the bandage.

Also, rest assured you will get better at this and be able to accomplish the task solo and fearlessly. It's all part of the challenges of parenthood and you will be up to the job sooner than you can imagine.

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