By Raising Children Network
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Learning how to cut your baby’s little nails might take a while, and you might feel a bit uneasy at first. But you won’t hurt your baby, and keeping her nails short will stop her scratching herself (and you!).


About your baby’s nails

Have you ever wondered why babies scratch themselves so much? It’s because they can’t really control what their arms and legs do until they’re about six weeks old. Intentional movement comes even later, at around 4-6 months.

Newborns’ nails are soft enough that they don’t need frequent cutting – they’re usually worn down by your baby’s clothing. As your baby gets old enough to interact with his environment, his daily activities will also help to wear down his nails.

But your baby’s nails grow quite fast. You can cut or file (using an emery board) fingernails and toenails as needed, just rounding off the nails so they’re smooth. Your baby’s nails are quite soft. You can gently nibble the nails off if you prefer not to use clippers or scissors on them.

How to trim your baby’s nails

Try to do this task when your newborn is asleep, very calm or drowsy. For older children, you can use a high chair or car seat where the child can be strapped in.

You might like to try to follow these steps:

  • Use special baby nail clippers or an emery board. 
  • Work with someone else if it helps – one holding the newborn as the other trims the nails.
  • Trim toenails straight across to prevent ingrown nails.
  • Involve your baby in the activity – making a game of it keeps things moving.
  • Talk calmly or sing to your baby as you cut the nails.
  • If your baby is older, you might be able to distract her with a toy or activity.
  • Praising your baby for helping you finish can help you both feel good about getting the job done.
You can cover your young baby’s hands with a pair of soft, cotton mittens. This will stop him scratching himself or irritating any dry skin condition he might have.

Nail problems

It’s not uncommon for young babies to get a small infection (‘paronychia’) around a fingernail or toenail. This often clears up without needing treatment, although you might need to put a small amount of antiseptic cream or liquid on the nail.

Sometimes this infection can spread further into the skin of the finger or toe, causing the area to become swollen and red. If you notice this, see your doctor. Your baby might need an antibiotic to help clear the infection.

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  • Last Updated 02-02-2011
  • Last Reviewed 01-10-2009
  • Campbell, J., et. al. (2002). Skin: An education program for maternal and child health. Melbourne: Department of Dermatology, St Vincent’s Hospital.