woman holds baby's hand ready to clip the baby's nails

How to Clip Baby Nails (While Awake)

Those teeny razor-sharp claws have grown again and now it’s time to deal with them before they draw blood on someone (possibly themselves). But you’re not sure exactly how to clip baby nails while awake.

Is it a moment you dread? Understandable!

Yet somehow you need to trim those suckers every week or even every few days! When you have a little one at home you feel like you’re constantly clipping a baby’s nails.

Nothing’s worse than accidentally snipping your little baby’s sweet skin. Talk about feeling GUILTY! With such high stakes, it’s easy to feel apprehensive when trim-time has come (again!). 

Your concern is valid! You’re holding sharp clippers close to squirmy soft baby skin.

Fear not! I’ve created this list with important tips for clipping a baby’s nails so that you’ll quickly lose the nerves and become a confident baby manicurist.

These important tips are essential for safely and easily clipping a baby’s nails, making it a pain-free process for everyone.

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links for products I use. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

Best Way to Clip Baby Nails (Baby’s Position)

First thing’s first, proper positioning! This technique is key for the best way to clip baby nails!

When clipping a newborn’s nails, leave them lying down on a firm surface or safely strapped into an appropriate baby seat, such as a swing (not in motion) or even a carseat you’ve brought indoors. You want to have them in a safe and secure spot so that you can focus on their nails.

For slightly older infants, sit your baby on your lap facing outwards with their back supported against your chest and your arms hugging around the baby.

I find this to be the most natural nail-clipping position as their hand faces the same way as when you cut your own nails. The hug also holds their arms still and gives them extra comfort.

If you face your baby or lay them down, you’ll likely end up awkwardly trying to twist your hand with the clippers to get a good angle. But then your vision is blocked by your hand so you have to twist even further to see properly. All the while your little munchkin is wiggling all around trying to suck their toes.

It all gets quite uncomfortable and leads to a higher risk of snipping skin, which is what we want to avoid at all costs!

Best Hand Position to Clip Baby Nails Easily

Using the proper seated position, firmly hold the baby’s hand that you want to trim with your non-dominant hand so that you’re controlling the clippers with your dominant hand. 

Hold the baby’s hand while stabilizing the finger you want to work on. You can hold their fingers steady between the side of your pointer finger and thumb. See the photo below for this position.

If you try to keep their other fingers in a fist so that you can pull one finger out at a time, I’ve found that babies will squirm and try to pull away more. If they are naturally comfortable in a fist position then you can go ahead with separating one finger as you go. 

Try to stabilize the nail by holding onto their fingers rather than the palm of their hand. This will also protect each finger with your hand as you trim so that another finger doesn’t accidentally slip in the way. 

Newborns are born with the grasping reflex or palmar reflex where they involuntarily clutch an object that touches their palm. If you are working on a young baby who still has this reflex, try to position your hand so that the tip of their grasping fingers is not out of your sight for trimming. 

It is also important for the pads of the fingers to not push too firmly onto your hand or else it will be hard to tuck the clippers under their nail. 

woman holds baby hand steady when clipping a baby's nails

Use Safe Baby Nail Clippers

While it may be tempting to skip buying a baby-specific set, adult clippers are too big and bulky to use on tiny nails. Pick up some infant-appropriate clippers at any drug store or baby product store to do the job right and reduce the risk of snipping their skin. 

If you don’t have baby nail clippers on hand, you can gently use a regular nail file until you have trimmers but you’ll need to be extra careful as the texture of an infant’s nails is softer than adults’. 

When buying baby nail clippers, I personally don’t find added features of some designs useful, such as magnifiers, peek holes, or lights. My preference is simplicity, so something similar to my adult-sized tool, but in miniature. 

We currently use this one by Safety 1st (links to the product on Amazon) which has worked just fine for use when our daughter was an infant, now that she’s a toddler, and on my preschooler as well. 

How to Safely Cut Baby’s Nails

We’ve discussed your position and the baby’s position. Now let’s get into clipping, safely! 

Tilt the “blade” side slightly away from the skin so that the flat metal part below the blade is against the finger, as shown in the photo below. You can also gently pull the baby’s skin away from the nail so that you have more safe space to use the clippers. 

With the flat part of the metal resting against the skin, you should clearly see where the bottom blade reaches on the underside of the nail so that there’s almost no way to snip the baby. 

You don’t need to see how short you can go or how close you can get to the skin. Just snip enough to make sure the baby’s nails are not sharp and keep them at a comfortable scratch-free length. If your baby starts to move, don’t snip. Reposition and try again. 

nail clippers are flatly pressed against baby skin when safely clipping a baby's nails

Ways to Distract Baby When Clipping Nails

As babies develop they become more aware of their surroundings and actions. When they reach this age, you’ll probably need to distract them during the nail trimming process. Many babies will retract their hand as soon as their tiny fingers are held captive. 

Some distraction techniques could include:

  • Let them hold something (such as a toy or interesting object) with the hand you’re not trimming
  • Sing songs while you trim or talk to them to keep their mind off of their trapped hand
  • Sit in front of a mirror so they can make faces at themselves or have someone else make faces at them
  • Turn on an interactive toy 
  • Briefly turn on a screen if you’re really struggling

Some parents swear by trimming their baby’s nails when they’re sleeping so that may be worth a try. Both my girls were never sound-enough sleepers to do the job right so I haven’t done it that way since they were snoozing newborns. Also, I personally found the positioning more awkward than just doing it while they were awake. 

How to Cut Baby Nails When They Won’t Let You (Wiggling Baby)

When your little one is feeling too restrained, there’s a good chance they’ll wiggle any way just to break free of your grip. If this happens, after every fingernail or two, let them shake it off and wiggle their hand as they please. 

I’ve found this helps them release that frustration of not being able to move. When they become settled again, you can try another distraction technique, hold their fingers again, and continue on with another couple of nails until the next wiggle break. 

If your baby is really having a tough time, try another day. Sometimes their frustration and yours just make the process too complicated for that moment and it’s better to make another attempt at a different time. 

Snip Half a Nail and Peel the Rest Trick

When I’m really having a hard time snipping my baby’s nails or I’m tight for time, I try to complete the task as fast as possible. BUT even in a rush I never start clipping away haphazardly! 

I’ll simply place the clippers approximately halfway across the nail, or however much I can safely and confidently trim in one go. But rather than readjusting the clippers and snipping the rest of the nail right off with another snip or two, I’ll just peel away the remaining nail portion. This means only one snip per nail and a very speedy procedure. It’s also an easy way to make sure the baby’s nails are not sharp after trimming.

Make sure you’re not clipping too close to the skin with this technique so that you do not pull at any skin in the peeling away process. And I would never recommend using this technique with toenails as you should always trim them straight across to prevent ingrown toenails. 

How to Make Baby’s Nails Not Sharp

If your baby’s nails still seem to have sharp corners or jagged edges, you can gently file their nails until they are smooth.

To do this you can use a regular nail file on your baby or buy the smaller files meant for babies. Be sure to still carefully pull the skin away so that you’re only filing the nail and not their delicate skin. Use short strokes to remove the sharp areas.

Nail files can also be a gentle and safe way to trim infant nails for someone who is too nervous to use clippers.

Correct positioning, the proper tool, and many distractions should really reduce the chances of snipping any skin. Take a deep breath and take your time. (And bookmark this page if you need it, you’ll be clipping them again sooner rather than later!)

For more baby care tips, check out How To Change A Disposable Diaper (With Step-By-Step Instructions) and Simple Tips to Make Baby’s Bathtime Easier.