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How to cut your baby's nails

5-minute read

Key facts

  • It's best to cut your baby's nails if they are longer than their fingertips.
  • Your baby may scratch themselves if their nails are too long or sharp.
  • Hold your baby's hand or foot firmly and gently pull the pad of their finger or toe away from the nail.
  • Cut the nail straight across using baby nail clippers or scissors.
  • It's best not to bite or peel your baby's nails.

Do I need to cut my baby's nails?

It's best to cut your baby's nails if they are longer than the tips of their fingers.

You may not need to cut your baby's nails for the first few months. Some babies are born with longer nails than others and some babies' nails grow faster than others.

You may feel a little uneasy when you first cut your baby's tiny nails. But as your baby grows, you will be able to take care of their nails with confidence.

What can happen if I don't cut my baby's nails?

Young babies can't control their arm or leg movements. If their nails are too long, sharp or jagged, they may scratch themselves. If you notice your baby's nails need to be smoothed, you may need to trim them.

If it's hard to stop your baby scratching themselves, you can put mittens on their hands. However, as your baby grows, it's best to have mittens off while they're awake so they can learn to use their hands.

How do I cut my baby's nails?

The best time to cut your baby's nails is when they're asleep or very drowsy and calm. After a bath is a good time, because their nails will be softer.

Make sure you have plenty of light and that you hold your baby on your lap or on a flat surface. Hold their hand or foot firmly so they don't move. It can help if someone else holds the baby while you cut the nails.

You can use baby nail clippers or baby nail scissors with rounded ends. Do not use adult nail clippers.

Pull the pad of the finger or toe gently away from the nail to avoid cutting your baby's skin and then cut the nail straight across.

Sometimes you may just need to use an emery board (nail file) to smooth and round the nail. Your local pharmacy may have ones that are specially made for babies.

Your baby might not like having their nails cut. You can soothe them by talking or singing to them, distracting them with a toy or making a game of it. Praise your baby when you have finished.

Step-by-step guide

Follow these steps to cut your baby's nails safely:

  1. Hold your baby on your lap or a flat surface.
  2. Work in an area where there is plenty of light.
  3. Firmly hold your baby's hand or foot, then hold each finger or toe in turn as you cut each nail.
  4. Gently pull the skin of the fingertip or toe away from the nail.
  5. Use baby nail clippers or rounded baby nail scissors and cut the nail straight across.
  6. Smooth the nail with an emery board (nail file) if there are any sharp edges.

What things should I avoid?

It's not a good idea to bite your baby's nails with your teeth, because this can spread germs from your mouth and lead to an infection.

It's best not to peel your baby's nails. You could easily tear them back too far, which will hurt your baby.

Try not to shape the nail or cut down the sides of the nail. This can cause ingrown nails and infections.

What should I do if something goes wrong?

Even with the best of care, it's possible to accidentally cut your baby's finger or toe. If it's bleeding, gently press a soft, clean cloth over the cut until the bleeding stops. Don't put on a dressing like a band-aid, as your baby might suck on it and it could come off.

If the skin next to your baby's nail is red, swollen or painful, they may have an infection. If this happens, you can soak their finger or toe in warm water and apply some antiseptic cream to keep the area clean. Put a mitten on your baby's hand so they don't suck off the cream.

If it doesn't get better, take your baby to the doctor. They may need antibiotics.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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