When Jennifer Porter was a new mom, clipping nails became one of her “scariest parts of parenting by far” – for a good reason, too. She was “victim of an overzealous, but loving father who nipped a little off” her pinkie finger when she was a baby getting her nails cut. ”We laugh about it now, but I don’t want the same for my kids,”Porter says.
Trimming a baby’s nails can be challenging and is often one of parents’ least favorite caregiving tasks, says Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann, a pediatrician and author of Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents’ Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers (American Academy of Pediatrics, October, 2008). “I know many dads who would rather change all of the dirty diapers than cut their baby’s nails — my husband included,” says Dr. Altmann, mother of two young boys.” I currently clip their nails once a week, usually on a Sunday night.”
Intimidating for first-time moms — and moms with other older children as well — trimming a baby’s nails can be a difficult task. Yet it’s a task you can’t ignore. “It’s important to try to keep your baby’s nails trimmed to prevent them from accidentally scratching themselves or other caregivers,” Dr. Altmann says.
Follow these tips from Dr. Altmann and other moms:
Avoid baby gloves. Parents often put gloves on their newborn’s hands so baby doesn’t scratch herself. Parents also use baby gloves because they can’t keep up with the nail growth or they are nervous to clip. Don’t put gloves on her hands. She needs to touch things to learn about her environment.
Clip nails when your baby issleeping. In addition, some very coordinated moms can actually cut or clip their baby’s nails while they nurse.
Use proper tools. Look for a clippers or scissors that seem to be comfortable in your hand, and that enables you to clip or cut your baby’s nails easily. Baby scissors — the cute ones with the stork — also work well.
Be flexible. Both parents should clip their baby’s nails in the way they’re most comfortable.
Try a file. An easier and often safer option for many parents is to file their baby’s nails. Filing does need to be done more often, sometimes every other day. Clipping once a week is often enough.
Know when to cut. Pay attention, and once you find that you are getting scratched, or your baby’s nails seem long enough that she might scratch herself, go ahead and trim. To quell her fears, Porter discovered the ideal period to cut her baby’s nails is right after his bath. “It’s the time when the nails are very soft and you’ve gotten all of the day’s accumulated ‘gook’ out from under the nails so that you can see a very clear line where the nail actually starts and ends,” she says. “Always cut in good light — right under a lamp if you can.”
Realize accidents do happen. Almost every parent has accidentally clipped or cut their baby’s skin while trimming nails. Although your baby may let out a cry for a moment, it usually ends up hurting mom and dad much more than the baby. Apply pressure to stop any bleeding, which is usually minimal, and then clean the wound. If the bleeding won’t stop, or there seems to be any sign of infection, such as redness, pus or the area seems tender, call your pediatrician. When Kelly Kohen was a new mom, she had “the unfortunate experience” of cutting her son’s nails a bit too close, drawing very small amounts of blood. It wasn’t fun.
Try some tricks. To prevent future incidents, Kohen found an easier way to trim her son’s nails. “By holding his hand up and trimming his nails from the back side, instead of looking at them and trimming them with the nail up, I had a better idea of where to cut,” she says. “I didn’t make as many mistakes.” Porter and her husband tried to clip their son’s nails as a “two-man team with my husband doing the distracting, and I was doing the clipping. My husband is too scared to do the clipping.”
Porter also uses a “wrestling” move to hold her son still while she clips his nails, sitting on the bed together. (She regularly uses this for brushing his teeth as well.) “His head is in my lap with his legs next to mine. His arms are under my legs — one or two if you’re comfortable, which I am — to secure any wiggling. We tell stories or sing a song as I gently use this ‘wrestling’ move to keep him still to clip.”
Another strategy Porter uses is to give her toddler his own pair of safety clippers to play with when they cut his nails. “He tries to cut his toe nails when we’re working on his fingers,” she says. “So far we haven’t had any problems with him scratching himself with the clippers. If anything, he’s scratched himself too much with his long nails. It’s a decent tradeoff, I think.”
Kim Seidel is an award-winning writer and editor and the mother of two daughters. As the owner of Seidel Ink, LLC, www.seidelink.com, she specializes in parenting, health and wellness and family topics.