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How to Trim Baby Nails: Step-by-Step Guide

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Updated
Follow our step-by-step guide to help your trim your baby's nails.

Is it finally time to trim your baby’s nails, but you’re feeling a bit unsure?

Trimming your baby’s nails is probably one of the scariest firsts you’ll experience as a new mother. Handling anything that could potentially cut your little one is no easy task, and the thought of accidentally drawing blood is daunting.

In this guide, we’ll share all the tips and tricks you need to cut your baby’s nails and keep them trim and tidy.

Key Takeaways

  • Trim baby’s nails regularly to prevent scratches and injuries.
  • Choose from clippers, scissors, or a file to trim nails, ensuring they are designed for babies.
  • To trim, gently push back the fingertip, make small clips above the white nail line for fingernails, and clip straight across for toenails.
  • If an accidental cut occurs, stay calm, rinse the finger, apply pressure with a tissue, but avoid using a bandage.


Why Should I Trim My Baby’s Nails?

Your baby’s nails may seem pliable and softer than yours, but they can cause significant damage. Those tiny claws are sharp! If you’ve ever handled a newborn with flailing arms or a 6-month-old trying to grab your lips, you know they hurt.

Unfortunately, young babies don’t have control of where their fingers land. This is due mainly to their lack of muscle control, which doesn’t fully develop until they’re older (1).

Sometimes their fingers end up in vulnerable places, such as their own eyes. For a while, my little one had nothing but tiny scratches near the eye. Even though I would trim her nails at least once a week, it just wasn’t enough.

Baby fingernails grow fast, and by fast, I mean lightning speed, or so it seems (2). Some moms report having to trim their baby’s nails every few days — I had to do the same.

How to Trim Your Baby’s Nails

There are several different tactics for trimming your little one’s nails. The method you use will depend on what makes you and your baby comfortable.

Some moms find it comforting to have their partner assist in the process — one holding the baby and the other trimming the nails. Others may feel it’s easier during feeding time or when their baby is fast asleep.

Before we get into the how-tos, these are some valuable tips we’ve learned through experience and years of helping others in their parenting journeys:

  • Find a good position: Sit in the rocker, place your baby in your lap, or lay them on the bed when they’re sleeping. Find a place that works for you.
  • Visibility: Don’t try to trim your baby’s nails in a dimly lit room, even if they’re sleeping. Sit by the window or beside a lamp — anything to give you enough light to navigate the process carefully.
  • Hold your baby still: The more their hands move, the bigger the chance you’ll accidentally cut their finger. If your baby seems nervous, talk or sing while you work.
  • Use an emery board: If there are any rough edges, use an emery board to smooth them out.
  • Trim nails after a bath: They’ll be softer and easier to clip.

Clippers

Product Image of the Safety 1st Steady Grip Infant Nail Clipper (Colors May Vary)

Clippers are the go-to method for many moms. Perhaps it’s because most of us use them on our own nails. But it’s probably also because they’re less likely to cut a finger off (3).

You can get mini-clippers that are smaller and specifically made for tiny fingernails. Some even have ergonomic handles, making them easier to hold with bigger hands.

A good example is this Safety 1st Steady Grip nail clipper.

However, many moms report that they prefer a wider baby nail clipper since it cuts nails from side to side in one action.

Scissors

Not every mom is brave enough to use scissors — it does sound intimidating! But many swear by this method — especially when using baby nail scissors with blunt edges.

One of the upsides to scissors is the extra control they give you. You can easily see where you’re cutting.

If you think scissors are for you, we recommend these Simba baby nail scissors.

File

Product Image of the Baby Nail File, 3 Pack, Emery Board Glass, Crystal, Set for Newborns, Toddlers,...

Using a file is probably the safest way to trim your baby’s nails — you’d have to file pretty hard to draw blood.

Experts recommend using a file or soft emery board if your baby is under one month old. At this age, their nails are soft, and there’s no immediate need for trimming. However, some moms report that a file was useless on their newborn’s soft nails.

But if filing the nails of a squirmy four or five-month-old is the easiest solution for you, take a look at this Baby emery board.

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The How-Tos

Trimming your baby’s nails is pretty much the same whether you’re using a clipper, scissors, or a file.

Here’s what you do:

  • Get a good hold on the finger: Be firm yet gentle; the finger just needs to be kept still.
  • Gently push back the fingertip: Use your finger and gently push the fingertip away from the nail (4). This creates some space for your chosen nail-trimming tool.
  • Do short, little clips on fingernails: Make these clips just above the white nail line. Going any shorter is not recommended. If you’re using a file, gently file the nail to the same line.
  • Clip straight across on toenails: For the toenails, follow the steps above. But when you clip or file, do it straight across to prevent ingrown toenails, not in a curve.

What Not to Do

Even though you have free rein when trimming your baby’s nails, there are two methods you should always avoid.

  • Don’t bite your baby’s nails: Staring at your baby’s nails in need of a trim with no tool handy, you might get the urge to bite them off, but please don’t. By biting their nails, you introduce germs from your mouth, which can trigger a viral or bacterial infection. It’s also likely to leave sharp edges behind.
  • Don’t tear the nails off: Even if it’s just a tiny section of the nail, don’t be tempted to pull it off — you could cause an ingrown nail by doing this. Ingrown nails are painful and can become infected.

Both methods could easily remove too much of the nail, causing injury to your baby’s finger or toe.

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What Should I Do If I Cut the Skin?

Accidents happen. Baby nails are tiny, and babies are squirmy. If you accidentally cut your little one, don’t feel too bad — you’re not alone. We’ve all been there (multiple times!).

Here’s what to do:

  • Stay calm: Don’t panic; there’s no need to rush to the emergency room.
  • Rinse the finger: Take your baby to the bathroom and rinse the finger under cold, gentle running water. This will stop the bleeding.
  • Wrap with a tissue: Wrap the finger with a tissue and apply a little pressure. The bleeding should stop within a few minutes. Remove the tissue after the bleeding stops.
  • Don’t put a bandage on: There’s no need for a bandage, and it could become a choking hazard (5).

Trimming Baby Nails FAQs

When Can I Start Cutting My Baby’s Nails?

You can start cutting your baby’s nails within the first few weeks after birth. Baby nails grow quite fast and can be sharp; trimming them regularly helps prevent your baby from scratching themselves.

How Often Do You Have to Cut a Baby’s Nails?

You may need to cut a baby’s nails once a week for fingernails and every two weeks for toenails. Baby nails grow quickly, and keeping them short minimizes the risk of scratching.

Is It Better to File or Cut Newborn Nails?

For newborns, it’s often safer to gently file the nails rather than cut them. This reduces the risk of accidentally cutting their delicate skin. As they age, you can transition to baby nail clippers or scissors.

What are the Safest Nail Clippers for Babies?

The safest nail clippers for babies are those designed specifically for them, featuring small, curved clipping edges for precision and safety guards to prevent over-trimming.

Do I Need to Sterilize Baby Nail Clippers?

It’s a good idea to sterilize baby nail clippers regularly to prevent the spread of germs. You can do this by wiping them with rubbing alcohol before and after use.

How Do You Cut a Baby’s Nails If They Won’t Let You?

If your baby resists nail cutting, try doing it while they’re sleeping or after a bath when their nails are softer. Distracting them with a toy or singing can also help.

Is It Best to Trim a Baby’s Nails When the Baby is Awake So They are Not Frightened?

It depends on the baby. Some babies are calmer and less frightened when they are awake and distracted, while others may not notice or mind if their nails are trimmed while they are asleep

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Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran licensed pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.