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How to Trim Baby Nails

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
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.

Why Should I Trim My Baby’s Nails?

Baby 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 six-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 mostly due to their lack of muscle control, which doesn’t fully develop until they’re older (1).

Sometimes their fingers do 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.

That leads us to the next point. 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 ended up having to do the same.

How to Trim Your Baby’s Nails

When it’s time to trim your little one’s nails, parents use different tactics. It all depends on what makes you and your baby comfortable.

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

Before we get into the how to’s, here are some additional tips:

  • 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 that you’ll accidentally cut their finger. If your baby seems nervous, talk, or sing while you’re busy.
  • 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.

With various possible methods for trimming your little one’s nails, choose the one that you’re most comfortable with.


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 a little 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 large handles, making it 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 larger clipper since it cuts nails from side to side in one action.


Product Image of the Simba Baby Safety Scissors

Not every mom is brave enough to use scissors — it does sound intimidating! That said, a number of them swear by this method. Especially when you can get baby scissors that have 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, I recommend checking out these Simba baby nail scissors.


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

Nonetheless, filing the nails of a squirmy four or five-month-old might be the solution for you. If so, take a look at this Baby emery board.

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The How To’s

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, not in a curve.

What Not to Do

Even though you have quite a free rein when it comes to trimming your baby’s nails, there are two methods that you just shouldn’t try.

  • 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 small section of the nail, don’t be tempted to just pull it off — you could cause an ingrown nail by doing this. Ingrown nails are painful and can become infected.

Both of these 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.

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, gently 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 bleeding stops.
  • Don’t put a bandage on: There’s no need for a bandage, and it could become a choking hazard (5).

Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran board-certified 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.