Cutting Little Fingernails

Babies are born with all kinds of cute little parts including 10 little fingers and 10 little canstockphoto7201636toes. And while their fingers and toes may seem tiny, their fingernails and toenails are even tinier. As a mom whose husband was afraid to cut our children’s fingernails and a pediatrician, I have seen more than one concerned parent when it comes time to trim what seem like microscopically small nails of a young infant.

Every parent that I speak with has the same fear of cutting their child with the clippers due to the nails being so small. Most grown men and some women have trouble even holding the tiny fingernail clippers marketed for infants. Below are some tips to help with trimming fingernails appropriately in a way to prevent injury to your young child.

  • First, relax and take a calming breath. If you are nervous or scared then the child is going to be more anxious about the process as well.
  • Cut the nails when baby is sleeping or while they are calm. If baby is moving or jerking around, it is more likely that they will get accidentally cut with the clippers.
  • For newborns, if you do not want to cut the fingernails as frequently, you can buy mittens to put over the fingernails. These mittens work well for the first couple of months, but you will ultimately need to learn to trim the nails as it is important for babies to have their hands free to learn and explore their environment.
  • Try using a finger file instead of clippers in newborns. For the first several months of life, the nails are soft and file off easily, preventing accidentally cutting the finger with clippers. The finger nail files marketed to newborns are not any better than a regular nail file and are often harder to hold due to their small size. It is alright to use an adult sized nail file.
  • Do NOT bite off the fingernails or toenails as this can result in tearing of the nails or uneven edges. If tearing occurs, the nail may be ripped back farther than intended and hurt the child. Biting the nails can also increase the risk of an infection known as herpetic whitlow which is an infection around the fingernail that is caused by the same virus that causes cold sores.
  • Cut the fingernails and toenails right after a bath when the nails are the softest from being in water.
  • Newborn fingernails grow quickly and need to be trimmed a couple of times a week. As the baby grows, the nails will become more firm and grow a little slower. Older babies may need the fingernails trimmed only once a week or every other week. Toenails grow slower and often only need trimmed once or twice a month.
  • Cut the nails straight across instead of angling the corners with the shape of the nail. If you angle the corners, the nails can become ingrown easier leading to pain and sometimes infections.

Written by Jessilyn Humble, MD, mom and pediatrician in southeast Kansas. 

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