0-18 months

Learning how to cut baby 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 trimming often – 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.

Your baby’s nails do grow quite fast, though, so you can gently trim fingernails and toenails as needed. You can also file them using an emery board. This means just rounding off the nails so they’re smooth.

It isn’t a good idea to bite baby nails yourself, because this can spread germs from your mouth, which might lead to an infection.

How to cut 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 you can strap your child in.

These tips for cutting nails can make things easier:

  • Make sure you have plenty of light, so you can see well.
  • Use special baby nail clippers, baby nail scissors or an emery board.
  • Work with someone else if it helps – one holds your baby as the other trims the nails.
  • Press your baby’s finger pad away from the nail to avoid cutting her skin.
  • Trim toenails straight across to prevent ingrown nails.

And here are some tips to keep your baby happy as you cut his nails:

  • Talk calmly or sing to your baby.
  • If your baby is older, try distracting her with a toy or activity.
  • Involve your baby in the activity – making a game of it keeps things moving.
  • Praise your baby for helping you finish – this can help you both feel good about getting the job done.

If you accidentally cut your baby and his skin bleeds, gently press a soft cloth pad onto the cut until the bleeding stops. Don’t put on a dressing because your baby might suck it off.

If you’re worried about the cut, take your baby to see your GP.

You can cover your young baby’s hands with a pair of soft cotton mittens or socks. This will stop her scratching herself or irritating her skin if it’s dry. But make sure she has some mitten-free time so that she can explore with her hands.

Nail problems

It’s quite common for young babies to get a small infection (called paronychia) around a fingernail or toenail. This often clears up without needing treatment. But 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 GP. Your baby might need an antibiotic to help clear the infection. If you do put on cream to treat the infection, make sure that you put mittens or socks on your baby afterwards. This means baby can’t put his hands or feet directly into his mouth.

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Last updated or reviewed
07-07-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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