Cutting Your Baby's Nails for the First Time

When is the right time to cut your baby's nails? Many parents are afraid to do it. But in this article, you'll find all the information you need.
Cutting Your Baby's Nails for the First Time
Nelton Ramos

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Nelton Ramos.

Last update: 18 May, 2023

There are a lot of myths about cutting your baby’s nails for the first time.

Some people say that doing it too soon can expose children to certain conditions or illnesses. However, there is no strict limit on when you can begin cutting your baby’s nails.

Babies have naturally delicate skin. When they’re born, they’ve been in a liquid environment for nine months.

This is also true of their nails, which, at first, are soft and fragile.

With this in mind, it’s ideal to wait for their nails to harden up a little, which will make them easier to cut.

Some children, however, are born after the pregnancy is full term and may have longer nails.

This puts the child at risk of accidental scratches. In these cases, parents will need to carefully file or cut their infant’s nails.

Cutting your baby’s nails: when is the right time to start?

When a baby is born, their nails adhere closely to the skin, making them difficult to cut. Most parents wait three to four weeks after birth to cut them.

Unless you can easily see the separation between nail and flesh, avoid using nail scissors.

Another option is to use a special nail file designed for babies. This will help to prevent any possible scratches and stop sharp edges catching on clothing. Babies’ nails can be surprisingly sharp.

Another thing to take into account is how frequently you should be cutting your baby’s nails. It’s difficult to establish a routine, because babies’ nails can grow very quickly.

There are some children who will need their nails cut up to twice a week. The best thing is to keep an eye on their growth. Remember this also applies to toenails.

How to cut a newborn’s nails

The best time for cutting a baby’s nails is when the child is most relaxed. This could be after a bath or a feed or while they’re asleep.

If your child has a calm disposition, you could try cutting their nails while they’re sitting peacefully in your lap.

cutting your baby's nails for the first time

In the first few months, you should use specially designed, blunt edged scissors or clippers. Hold scissors perpendicular to the nail while you snip to avoid injuries.

Good lighting is helpful for cutting your baby’s nails, to avoid accidents. Similarly, make sure to keep a firm grip on their hand in case of any sudden movements. Cut carefully but firmly.

At first your baby’s nails are soft and fragile. With this in mind, it’s ideal to wait for their nails to harden up a little, which will make them easier to cut.

Common mistakes to avoid

  • Cutting the nail into a curved shape. A baby’s nails should be cut straight across. Among other reasons, this avoids ingrown nails.
  • Cutting too short. Some parents make the mistake of cutting right down to the part of the nail that is stuck to the flesh. This leaves a sensitive part of the finger exposed to damage and infection.
  • Using nail scissors or clippers for other purposes. Keep your baby’s nail care tools for their intended purpose. This will help to ensure they stay clean.
  • Biting your baby’s nails. One technique that is more common among parents than you might think is to bite or chew the baby’s nails. Out of fear of using scissors, some moms opt to use their teeth, but this can lead to infection.
  • Letting nails break off. Another result of some parents’ fear of cutting their baby’s nails is letting them grow and break off naturally. This can sometimes lead to deep tears and cuts, and leaves children at risk of scratching themselves.
cutting your baby's nails for the first time

The mittens myth

To avoid scratches, some parents have their baby wear mittens or gloves at all times.

This is a mistake: this kind of accessory should only be used to protect your baby from the cold outdoors.

Don’t forget that a baby’s hands are how they interact with their environment.

Touch is key for babies to recognize their mother during breastfeeding. Babies also practice the sucking motion that they use to feed by putting their hands in their mouths.

So leave their hands free, and pay special attention to your baby’s nails.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Chinazzo M, Lorette G, Baran R, Finon A, Saliba É, Maruani A. Nail features in healthy term newborns: a single-centre observational study of 52 cases. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2017 Feb;31(2):371-375.
  • Starace M, Alessandrini A, Piraccini BM. Nail Disorders in Children. Skin Appendage Disord. 2018 Oct;4(4):217-229.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.