Ask A Midwife: stress-free ways to cut baby nails

Nobody warns you of the terror of trimming your baby’s nails. We sent for help.

4 min read 100%

Ask A Midwife: stress-free ways to cut baby nails

Nobody warns you of the terror of trimming your baby’s nails. We sent for help.

4 min read 100%

Your baby’s fingers and toes are perfect, no? So, the idea of using nail scissors on their dinky pinkies is an anxiety many new parents share. But needs must: babies can scratch themselves badly if the nails are too long, especially if your baby has dry skin or eczema. [link to Dry Skin Remedies] We asked Sonya Brear, a midwife of over 20 years to hold our hands and help us do the job without tears (or bloodshed).

In the early days, your baby’s nails are very soft and wear down naturally. As they grow, they wear them down through play and touching things. But fingernails grow quite quickly and may need cutting a couple of times a week; toenails a little less frequently.
Sonya Brear - Midwife of over 20 years

What you need when cutting baby fingernails

"You will need baby nail scissors, nail clippers and nail files.” explains Sonya. “Make sure they are specifically made for babies, as adult size nail scissors will be too big and you risk hurting their fingers and toes.”

How to cut baby nails like a pro

  • Get someone to sit with you for support if you are not confident.

  • Try to cut or file nails after a bath, so that they’re soft. Pick a time when your little one is drowsy, to avoid anxiety.

  • Put your baby in a safe place, such as the middle of your bed.

  • Make sure the room is well lit.

  • Pull the pad of your baby’s finger gently back from the nail before cutting.

  • Cut nails straight across to prevent ingrown nails and be sure there are no jagged edges that might catch on clothing or hurt the skin.

  • Use a baby nail file to get them really smooth.

  • Don’t ever cut down each side of the nail and don’t cut them too short, as that could make the nailbed sore.

  • Toenails may grow in a downward curve. Go carefully, as it may not be easy to see what’s attached and what’s not.

  • Be sure that socks and baby-grows are not too tight; check for threads from clothing that might get wrapped around the toe, cutting off circulation.

  • If your baby is prone to scratching, get some scratch mitts. You can also buy tops and baby-grows with fold-down mitts attached to the sleeves.


What about biting your baby’s nails off?

“Some people may tell you to bite your baby’s nails off,’ says Sonya, “but that’s not recommended; you can’t see what you’re doing, and nails will be ragged. You can also cause an infection from bacteria in your mouth.”

What else should you look out for when cutting your baby’s nails?

  • Play some soothing music, try a little baby massage beforehand, or pop a baby TV programme on to distract them.

  • Have a favourite toy handy and play a game with your baby - but you don’t want them too excited and wriggly!

  • Use your voice to help your baby know what to expect – ‘now the next nail, now your other hand’ or try singing the ‘Tommy Thumb’ song. This helps them get used to the routine and also helps you know the name of the next finger/toe to tackle!

  • When you have finished, make sure you smile, cuddle and praise your baby for being so good.

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