Top Things to Know Before You Cut Baby Nails

An essential guide for first time parents on how to safely cut baby nails and file them without fear of causing infections and minor cuts.

closeup image of a baby's hands

Did you know baby nails actually start growing even before they come out of the mother’s womb? If you think about it, it sounds rather obvious. However, it’s just one of those things you will notice when you hold your baby’s tiny paws for the first time. The biggest problem with baby nails is that they’re often long and sharp because they’ve had a couple months to grow. If not trimmed or clipped in time, your baby may end up scratching her face or eyes which can lead to additional discomfort for you and the baby. Your face could also end up being collateral damage when you’re attempting to feed the baby.

This post is all about top things to know before you cut baby nails. It may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure here.

How often Should I Cut Baby Nails

Every baby is different and the pace of nail growth is really dependent on what type of nutrition levels or feeding they’re establishing over their initial growth period. Some nails tend to grow fast and may require a lot more frequent upkeep than other babies. In general, it is advisable to give some attention to your baby’s nails once every 7-10 days.

Best Time to Cut Baby Nails

Baby hands are constantly moving which makes it tough to clip their nails while holding them still. For younger babies, the best time to cut their nails is when they’re asleep or drowsy. A great way to check this is using the spaghetti test.  If the baby’s arms are as floppy as perfectly cooked spaghetti, then and only then you can cut the nails.

For older babies, you may need to get them in a good stable position like on your lap and possibly distract them with a video or toy to ensure you have good grasp of the nails before clipping them.

The worst time is definitely trying to cut baby nails at night time when you, the parent is probably sleep deprived or not at your ideal attention levels. Try to cut baby nails when you have plenty of ambient light so that you don’t cut their tender skin by mistake.

Safe Tools for Clipping Nails

Cutting your baby’s nails can be a ‘nail biting’ experience for many first-time parents. Using a scissors or an adult nail clipper near those tiny hands can often lead to accidents if not executed properly. Hence it is very important to have the right tools handy for this ‘operation’ of sorts.

  • The best tools to cut baby nails are specialized nail scissors or nail files made just for this purpose.
  • Most parents use baby scissors for the first few months and then transition to baby nail clippers once they’re accustomed to the process. Nail clippers with in-built lights are also a safe bet because they are designed to shine more light to give you better visibility.
  • Electric nail clippers with attachments are also quite popular. However, I generally do not recommend them for first time parents because they generally take some practice to get the process right.
  • Adult nail clippers are a definite no-no because the blades are sharper and can cause unintentional damage if not handled properly. They are also not designed for a baby’s tender nails.

Related: Best Baby Nail Clippers for Squirmy Babies

How to Safely Cut Baby Nails

Your main goal should be to cut the sharp or overgrown portion of the nail and not perform an extensive manicure. Whether you’re using a nail clipper or scissors, the steps are the same

  • Have a firm grasp on your baby’s hand. Enlist the support of other members in your household if you’re finding it hard to keep the baby stable while doing this.
  • Gently push back on the fingertip. It’s also helpful to take two fingers and lightly pinch the sides of the baby’s fingertip to pull it away from the nail a little bit more. Ever seen how a cat’s nails expose themselves when they apply pressure on the paws? This works on the same principle where you’re making sure you expose the fingernails and don’t cut the fingertip by mistake.
  • Conduct short and precise clips and don’t cut too close to the skin.  
  • File rough edges around the nails after clipping them. Filing requires practice and patience because that is the one thing that can wake your baby from a dead sleep. File from the top of the nail (the part we paint) at an angle towards the tip. Working around the tip that way works best instead of across back and forth on the fingertip like we file our nails. Don’t go from tip backwards to nail only go from nail to tip.
  • Gently wash the baby’s fingers with a soft toothbrush under warm water to make sure there aren’t any small nail clippings stuck in the nail bed.

How To Cut Toenails

The process for cutting baby toenails is the same as cutting their finger nails. The only extra thing to remember is to cut the nails in a straight line to avoid any ingrown nails.

What Should I Do If I Cut the Skin

It happens. Most parents will admit that they’ve unintentionally done this at least once in their baby’s lifetime. Unless you’ve caused some serious bleeding, here’s what you need to do

  • Keep Calm. Panicking and stressing your baby and others will not improve the situation
  • Wash the cut under a steady stream of cold water to stop the initial bleeding
  • Gently press a soft cloth pad over the cut until the bleeding stops. Avoid using bandages or any dressing because they could end up being a choking hazard.
  •  The above tips are general parenting advice and does not replace medical advice provided by a trained medical professional. If you are concerned about your baby’s wellbeing at any point, please consult your pediatrician or general practitioner.

Tips for Newborn Nail Care

If you need the short and sweet version of baby nail care, consider these general tips to cut baby nails

  • It is important to maintain good nail hygiene before, during and after cutting baby nails. Wash the nails and fingertips with a soft brush and warm water before and after cutting the nails
  • Use nail clippers or scissors designed specially for babies. Adult nail clippers may end up causing more damage than you think.
  • Don’t cut the nails too close and file any rough edges after cutting the nails.
  • Avoid biting off your baby’s fingernails as is common in some cultures. It can cause infections if there are cuts on your baby’s fingers and you have poor oral hygiene.
  • The best time to cut baby nails is when they’re asleep or drowsy. Distract older babies with a toy or some video to keep them stable.
  • Don’ stress too much. You may clip all their nails at once or have to do it in batches. Either way, its good to get them used to the process as early as possible.

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