A Don't-Be-Nervous Guide to Cutting a Baby's Nails
New parents, relax: There's no need to worry about drawing blood if you trim an infant's nails right
When it comes to new baby care, most rookie parents get over their nervousness as soon as they realize their tiny tot isn’t going to break during a sponge bath or diaper change or while having her delicate umbilical stump cleaned.
Trimming a baby’s fingernails and toenails often is another story. Many new moms and dads would just as soon wait until their kids are old enough to schedule an appointment at the nail salon than risk sinking something sharp into a tiny finger or toe. But allowing an infant’s nails to sprout into teeny talons isn’t a great idea. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that a baby’s nails can be a hazard if they get too long or uneven. Because infants have little control over their limbs, they tend to flail their arms and legs and can scratch themselves or their caretakers in the process.
To avoid nicking a newborn’s fingers or toes with sharp scissors or clippers, some moms and dads nibble their baby’s nails with their teeth. This is a no-no. “Mothers who bite their babies’ fingernails can pass the herpes virus to their infants,” warns Ella Toombs, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, DC. And parents are at risk of infection from germs hiding under an infant’s nails. (You shouldn't bite your own nails, for that matter.)
If you have a new baby, there’s no way around needing to trim her nails regularly. But there are some simple ways to reduce the risk of drawing blood.
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Time it right
Pediatrician Alanna Levine, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) who practices in New York and New Jersey, recommends cutting an infant’s nails when she’s asleep. She’ll be relaxed and less likely to jerk her hand or foot just as you’re about to squeeze down with the clippers or scissors.
Another good time to tend to tiny toes and fingers: after a baby’s bath, when the nails are soft and pliable. “But once you get the hang of it,” assures Levine, “you’ll find you can cut a baby’s nails when it’s most convenient for you." Levine also recommends doing the job while a baby is relaxed in her car seat or on another grown-up’s lap.
Related: 5 Tips For Swaddling a Newborn
Choose your tools
The equipment should be designed for a tot’s tiny nails. The NIH doesn’t recommend manicure or pedicure tools that are made for adults. They’re just too big.
Clippers versus scissors? That’s strictly a personal preference. “I find scissors easier to control,” says Levine. Lauren Ploch, MD, a dermatologist in New Orleans, prefers clippers because she finds they’re less likely to cause the nail to bend.
Still other parents like to use a small emery board to file a baby’s nails. This can be tricky, though, says Ploch, at least in the early weeks when a child’s nails are especially soft. It’s a good idea to use an emery board to smooth any sharp edges that are left after a trim. Just don’t file the sides of a baby’s nails, as this can weaken them and lead to breakage or ingrown nails, explains Ploch.
Hone your technique
Don’t rush. You can lessen the risk of nicking a finger or toe by taking time with each one to press the pad down and away from the path of the clippers or scissors. The AAP recommends following the curve of each finger (but cut toenails straight across).
A baby’s fingernails grow quickly. You’ll probably have to trim them once or twice a week. Toenails require less frequent attention — a mini pedi about once a month.
Related: The Right Way to Trim Your Toenails
Don’t cry over spilled blood
Nicks happen. “Don’t feel guilty if you nip your baby’s skin,” Ploch says. But do take care of it: Rinse the cut with water, then apply pressure with a clean towel or tissue. “Gently press for a few minutes without peeking,” advises Ploch. Then move on the next nail. Don’t put a bandage on a baby; it could wind up in her mouth and become a choking hazard.