How to Clip a Newborn's Fingernails

Augi- Pannathorn Narksook

Learn how to care for your newborn, from head to toe. 

Few tasks make a new parent more fraught with anxiety than clipping their baby’s nails. Those little newborn fingers are just so tiny, and the clippers seem so huge. It’s like trying to defuse a bomb and wondering if you should cut the red wire or the blue wire. But nail trimming doesn’t have to resemble the climax of an action movie every single time you do it. Here’s everything you need to know to start trimming like a pro.

  • Why do I even have to cut my baby’s fingernails?

    Baby nails are soft and it may seem like they’re too flexible to do any damage. But if you leave them untrimmed, you’ll quickly see how much damage tiny baby nails can do. Newborn mittens are made specifically because babies tend to scratch their little faces, and when they get cranky or frustrated, they may grab at their faces, inadvertently clawing themselves in the process.

    Here’s how to trim the nails:

  • Advertisement
  • 1. Wait until they’re asleep.

    Augi- Pannathorn Narksook

    Trying to trim the nails of a sleeping baby might sound like another “defusing a bomb” situation, but Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician and author of The Baby Book, says it’s actually the best time to do it. He advises to wait until they’re in deep sleep characterized by the “limp-limb sign” -- when their limbs dangle limply and their hands are open. If naptime doesn’t seem like the ideal moment, the second best time to trim is right after a bath, when the nails are at their softest.

  • 2. Use small clippers intended for infants.

    Augi- Pannathorn Narksook

    These are generally safer than adult-sized clippers or scissors, which can be especially risky if the baby stirs or startles while you’re clipping.

  • 3. Push the finger skin away from the nail as you clip.

    Augi- Pannathorn Narksook

    Hold each finger individually, pushing the pad of their finger down while you clip the nail. Go slowly, in case they squirm. If you do it while the baby is awake, Sears cautions, have someone else hold the baby’s hands to keep the baby from grabbing at the tools and accidentally getting cut.

  • What if I accidentally cut the baby?

    Augi- Pannathorn Narksook

    If you do nick the skin while trimming, it’s OK! Sears says to apply a small amount of pressure and a dot of antibiotic ointment. Avoid using a bandage, as it could be a choking hazard for small babies.

  • What about the toenails?

    Augi- Pannathorn Narksook

    Toenails don’t grow as quickly, so they won’t need to be trimmed as often. Still, when they do look long enough for a trim, stick to the same guidelines -- do it while the baby is asleep or after a bath, get a helper, and try to push the pad of each toe away from the nail as you clip.