Have you noticed that one of your baby’s toes appears red and swollen? Is this a sign of infection, or something else?
What you’re seeing is likely an ingrown toenail. This is a common occurrence for small babies. And although it may sound painful, it’s usually nothing to worry about, as long as you treat it right.
So for the sake of keeping all the little piggies happy and healthy, we’re here to talk about ingrown toenails in babies. Let’s dive in.
What Are Ingrown Toenails?
Almost everyone will experience an ingrown toenail at least once in their lives, and they’re also fairly common with babies. This occurs as the sides or corners of the nail grow or press into the soft surrounding skin (source).
It’s especially common to see this on the big toe, but any of the other piggies can also fall victim.
Does My Baby Have an Ingrown Toenail?
Ingrown nails can become quite painful, so signs of discomfort may be your first clue. Otherwise, you can quickly spot it by inspecting the top of the nail. During the early stages, the area will likely look reddish or swollen near the edge of the nail (source).
Some other signs to look out for include:
- Tenderness: Take notice of your baby’s reaction when you gently touch the area. Do they appear to be uncomfortable? Or do they scream when you come near their toes?
- Pulling their toes: If your baby pulls on their toes, this is another sign of pain and discomfort in the area. If your baby is very young, they might pull the whole leg in or stretch it out (source).
- Limp or grimace: Smaller babies might make a grimace whenever in pain. But if your little one is older, they may limp or frown while walking or crawling.
Ingrown toenails can also become infected. In this case, you should look for signs such as:
- Fluid-filled blisters: These are a telltale sign of an infected ingrown toenail. They’ll usually develop around the red areas.
- Discharge: This is due to the blisters breaking. If you notice any kind of discharge, make sure that you clean the area thoroughly.
- Excessive redness and swelling: As the nail grows and puts more pressure on the tissue, the redness and swelling may increase.
What Causes Ingrown Nails?
Baby toenails grow unbelievably fast and this is one of the reasons ingrown toenails occur. The toenail basically grows out of proportion. So, if your little one is wearing tight socks or shoes, there’s only one way for the nail to grow — inward.
Some babies simply grow curved toenails due to genetics. These nails will naturally curve down at the tip and cause pressure or grow inward (source).
Another reason is improper nail cutting. As a mom whose little one has had several ingrown toenails, this was a bit of a shock. I always thought it was solely due to not cutting the nails, when, in fact, I was just doing it wrong.
It turns out that trimming the nails too short and cutting them too close to the skin can also cause an ingrown toenail. The same goes for cutting them in a curved shape, as opposed to straight across.
Home Remedies for Ingrown Toenails
Unless you see signs of an infection, there’s no immediate need to rush to the pediatrician’s office. There are a few simple steps you can take at home, to ease the uncomfortable symptoms your little one is experiencing.
Doctors recommend that you fill up a small tub with warm water. Add some mild soap and let your baby (or just their feet) soak for 10 minutes. This will help to loosen the ingrown nail, and minimize pain and tenderness.
Next, get them out of the bath and, if it’s not too painful, massage the area gently, to encourage the toenail to pull away. Pat the area dry, before gently applying some over-the-counter antibiotic cream.
One thing you should never try is “bathroom surgery.” Trying to dig out or cut the toenail away can worsen the condition. It may even increase the chance for infection (source).
During this time, help the healing process by having your little one wear loose-fitting socks or shoes when outside. However, when you’re home, let them walk or crawl barefoot if the temperature allows for it.
After a few days, you’ll likely see an improvement. However, if it doesn’t improve or is getting worse, consult your pediatrician.
How to Prevent Ingrown Toenails
As easy as they are to treat, they’re even easier to prevent. Here are a few steps you can follow to avoid baby ingrown toenails:
- Use a nail clipper: Ditch the scissors and opt for the clipper. Scissors often cut nails in a curved or rounded shape, whereas clippers cut them straight across.
- Trim often: The longer the toenails, the higher the chance for an ingrown nail. So remember to trim them often: some may need a trimming once a week or more (source).
- Don’t cut too short: On the other hand, avoid cutting the toenails too close to the skin. If they’re still short from a previous trim, just leave them a few more days.
- File the edges: Sharp edges may dig into the soft tissue of the toe.
- Use loose-fitting shoes and socks: Where your little one can’t walk or crawl barefoot, or if the weather is too cold for it, opt for loose footwear. Tight socks and shoes can compress the toes, which could push the nails into the skin.
When Should I Contact the Pediatrician?
You should always contact your pediatrician if the toenail doesn’t improve within a couple of days with home remedies.
Another reason to take your baby to the doctor is if you see signs of infection. If you notice red streaks on the toe, or blisters beginning to form, you know it’s time to see the experts.
Your pediatrician will likely begin by examining the area and then prescribing either oral or topical antibiotics.
In some cases, they may cut the nail away from the skin, or remove some of it. In more severe cases, they will likely refer you to a specialist.
Discovering that your little one is bothered by an ingrown toenail is never on any mom’s wish list. Although it’s not as common for babies as it is for adults, a fair amount do experience them.
It generally occurs due to either improper nail trimming or tight socks and shoes. Sometimes, it can also happen due to genetics that cause the toenails to grow in a curved shape.
Fortunately, this normally subsides without medical intervention, and unless you see signs of infection, you can easily treat it at home.
Has your baby ever had an ingrown toenail? Feel free to write about your experience below. And, if you liked our little toenail guide, please share it.