How to cut your baby’s nails
Babies need their nail’s cut. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, we do it all the time to ourselves, but there’s something terrifying about it when it comes to your own flesh and blood.
Maybe it’s the size of their tiny hands and even smaller nails. Maybe it’s the fact they move their hands about uncontrollably. Maybe you’re just not used to using nail cutters and it’s all a bit fiddly. Maybe it’s just a Dad thing (my wife is incredible at it). But cutting baby nails and even the nails of our older toddlers just fills me with dread.
When I say ‘maybe’ though, I’m implying I don’t know why I hate it. That’s a lie. I do know. It’s the personal experience of cutting our eldest’s nails for the first time.
In those early days of parenthood, it was all macho Dad confidence. Aside from the early experience of feeling totally overwhelmed, I felt like I could do it all. Baby’s nails need cutting? Bah, no problem at all!
We sat on the bed, baby asleep (more on this below) and my wife and I passed the nail clippers between us as we snipped away. A little nervy, but no problem… right up till the moment when I snipped the top of his finger off. I’m not squeamish, but I think I almost puked. It wasn’t a bad cut – we’re talking about the cut of baby safety nail clippers here (more on this below as well). But there was blood.
We jumped on the phone to my father-in-law (a handy A&E consultant to have at the end of a phone call) and my wife got to feeding the baby to calm down the tears. A plaster for a day and all was fine. It really wasn’t a big deal for him.
But for me, it was a transformational moment. I’ve never cut our kids nails ever again. I can barely look at my wife doing it without feeling sick. So maybe, just maybe that’s why it fills me with dread.
But baby nails need cutting, there's no ducking it. It’s to save them from themselves mostly, as their flailing hands claw at everything they touch. They really can cause some damage. So that means the job must get done. And while you may or may not have a partner to totally take this burden from you, it’s always worth knowing how in case you eventually get over your fear!.
Three easy steps to cutting nails right
Wait until your baby is asleep
We know it’s the time when you’re meant to get everything done. You’re probably sick of people saying ‘When the baby’s asleep just…” But in this case it really is essential. Use one of those precious nap times to do the cutting to save yourself an accident. When they’re asleep you can at least control the flailing arms a little better. Do this until they really do understand what you’re doing and can sit still (or glued to something on Netflix)
Use the right tools
Baby safety nail clippers are great, but don’t underestimate the dream combination of great nail clippers plus gently pulling at spare bits of nail once clipped or biting them off. The clippers don’t have to do the entire work. For some recommendations – see below.
The best lesson I’ve learned is that you don’t have to do all of the nails at once. Whether it’s the pressure of finishing them or the fear of waking up your baby, it can be tempting to try and rush through them all and that’s when you can make a mistake. It’s best to just take your time and know that you can finish them off at another time when baby has re-settled if you have to.
Other advice on cutting baby’s nails
Bath time is your friend when it comes to cutting nails
Bath time softens nails and that makes it easier to cut them. A post-bath nap for your baby is a great time to cut nails as it makes snipping and removing the nail much simpler and you don’t have to worry as much about pressing down hard on your nail clippers
Chewing nails is sometimes okay
While chewing nails is something we actively discourage from our toddlers, chewing nails does have it’s advantages when cutting baby’s nails. It’s much safer and easier controlled than a nail clipper. Making the first snip with the clippers and then chewing off the remnant nail is actually quite a safe way to protect from cutting your baby.
Clever nail scissor recommendations
There’s a gadget for everything, but sometimes it’s worth making the investment and saving yourself some hassle. Something with a light on can be very helpful (especially if you’re planning on cutting in the dark while your baby sleeps). Something like these safety clippers would be a good choice.
Alternatively, these from Inventor Tom’s stylfile company are cleverly designed with a window in the clipper to be able to see how much of the nail you’re cutting.
If you’re avoiding cutting baby’s nails, or just haven’t managed to yet, then to stop baby’s scratching themselves people often try mittens. In my experience they are some of the most useless baby clothing items around. We bought and were gifted sets and they just seemed to become mucky and then fall off. Slightly better are the sleeve cuffs that you can invert over your baby’s hands, but if you’re hoping that covering your baby’s hands will prevent you having to cut their nails often, you’re wrong.
Know your limits
My own personal advice is to know what you’re not good at as a parent and be okay with that. Lean on others and be happy to accept that you can’t do everything.
There are times when we all have to just step up and do stuff we don’t like or that we’re not very good at. For example, your kid asking you to dance is not the time to explain that you’re a bad dance – just get on with it. Likewise with nappy changes, rocking your baby to sleep and anything else that goes on. There are plenty of times to step up and take responsibility.
But when it comes to certain specific skills, knowing your strengths is important. Sometimes it takes a little bit of humility to just accept you can’t do it and find someone that can. If that means asking your partner or paying someone to do it, just do it.
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