First published Summer 2012
Just as your newborn seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, so are his nails. To protect him (and you!) from tiny scratches, fingernails may require trimming at least once a week; toenails, less so. A newborn’s nail tips are soft and can easily be peeled off or filed with an emery board. This is the safest way to shorten nails, to avoid cutting the skin underneath.
When your baby is a few weeks old, you can use nail clippers or scissors made specifically for infants. Gently press on the pad of the finger, pushing it away from the nail to separate it from the sharp edges of the clippers. Hold your baby’s hand firmly, and cut the nail tips along the natural nail curve. Take a similar approach with toenails, but cut them straight across to avoid ingrown nails.
Newborns have a tendency to make fists, hiding their fingernails. You can gently separate and straighten the fingers in order to reach the nails. This can be done more easily when your baby is relaxed, so try trimming nails while he is asleep or feeding comfortably. You can also trim right after a bath, when the nails have softened in the water. Enlisting your partner to hold your baby while you hold his hand can help.
Accidents can happen, despite the most careful approach. Don’t panic if your baby’s skin gets cut; you should be able to stop the bleeding by applying gentle but firm continuous pressure with sterile gauze.
Don’t chew on your baby’s nails to trim them. You might introduce germs from your mouth to the surrounding skin, which could cause an infection. If the skin alongside the nail is red, painful or hard, indicating infection or an ingrown nail, seek medical advice.
If you are tempted to have a spa day for your little one, keep in mind that babies should not have their nails polished. They like to put their hands in their mouths and could potentially swallow the polish. Plus, the fumes are not recommended for little lungs.
Now that you know the steps to a great baby manicure, you and your child can enjoy spending time together scratch-free!
Pediatrician Elizabeth Shashaty, MD, is on staff at Children’s National Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, both in Washington, DC. She is also the mother of three young children.