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How to Cut Baby’s Nails Without Stressing Out

Ah, baby manicures—pretty much every parent’s nightmare. Here’s what you need to know about cutting baby nails to make the process as stress-free as possible.

Cutting baby’s nails can be a terrifying proposition for any new parent. Is it safe? How do you actually go about it? What if you accidentally cut baby’s finger? Since you can’t pay your pediatrician to trim those baby nails for you (we’ve tried), here’s what to keep in mind.

In this article:
Do you really need to cut baby’s nails?
How to file baby’s nails
How to cut baby’s nails
What to do if you cut baby’s finger

Do You Really Need to Cut Baby’s Nails?

Unfortunately, yes. This is one of those things you really don’t want to do as a parent but have to anyway. “Cutting baby’s nails is important to keep the nails clean and to help baby avoid unwanted and unintentional scratches,” says Dane Snyder, MD, section chief of ambulatory pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

As for when to cut baby’s nails, there’s really no set time—you should do it whenever they’re long. But keep in mind that baby nails grow faster than adults’, and typically require trimming around once a week, says Kristen Slack, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Some babies are born with long fingernails, so you should start filing or cutting newborn nails right away. However, you may need to trim those baby toenails less frequently. “Often, toenails don’t grow as quickly in the newborn period, so you may notice they don’t need to be trimmed as often as fingernails,” Snyder says.

Once you’ve resigned yourself to the reality that baby nails need a regular trim, there are a couple ways to approach the task: You can use a nail file to sand the nails down or nail clippers to cut them. Read on to learn the proper technique for both methods.

How to File Baby’s Nails

Every pediatrician is different, but “I generally recommend families exclusively file a newborn's nails for the first few months of life,” Slack says. “Even the most careful parent can accidentally snip a baby's fingertip with scissors or clippers.”

First, get your hands on a baby nail file (they tend to be smaller than adult versions), says Gina Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. Then file baby’s nails to shorten them, rounding the edges so the corners aren’t sharp. “It's often easier to file baby nails after bathing, when they’re softer than usual, or while baby is sleeping, when they’re more still than usual,” Slack says. Same goes for baby toenails.

How to Cut Baby’s Nails

Filing lowers the odds of accidentally cutting baby’s finger, but “sometimes baby nails are bendable, so it’s hard to file them,” Posner says.

To cut baby’s nails, get a baby nail clipper (many have safety guards to lower the risk of cutting baby). You probably won’t be able to get a rounded nail corner with clippers, so it’s often helpful to file down sharp corners afterward, if you can, Slack says. We’re not going to lie: That first baby mani-pedi can bring on heart palpitations. But you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

It can be tempting to skip cutting those baby nails altogether and bite them down instead—but resist the urge. “Parents shouldn’t use their teeth to avoid risk of infection and create a more controlled trimming process,” Snyder says. You’ll also want to take a pass on tearing off the nails. “Definitely don’t tear,” Posner says. “You can tear too low and injure your child.”

What to Do If You Cut Baby’s Finger

No matter how careful you are, pinching baby’s skin is a distinct possibility. If you do happen to cut baby’s finger, you’ll probably feel terrible–but you definitely wouldn’t be the first parent to do it.

First things first: Don’t freak out. Instead, try to assess the wound. “If you cut a lot, go to the ER,” Posner says. If it doesn’t look severe, Slack recommends applying pressure with a clean towel until the bleeding stops, then gently clean the area with soap and water. “If the cut continues to bleed after a few minutes, call your pediatrician for advice,” she says. You should also call your pediatrician if you see any redness, swelling or pus-like discharge from the injury or nailbed.

You can apply Neosporin to the cut twice a day until a scab forms—but skip the Band-Aid, since it can be a choking hazard. “If a bandage is necessary, you'll need to tape or securely cover the area to prevent any pieces from coming loose,” Slack says. Also, don’t suck on the wound with your mouth, since you don’t want to introduce any bacteria.

If you cut baby’s finger, rest assured it’s likely no big deal. “Most people just cut a tiny bit of skin, which is terrifying,” Posner says. “But the reality is, it’s going to heal just fine.”

Published December 2018

Plus, more from The Bump:

The Best Baby Nail Clipper for Stress-Free Nail Care

Baby’s First Bath: How to Bathe a Newborn

Cradle Cap 101: How to Spot and Treat It