1. Neat and tidy
Keeping a newborn’s nails trimmed may not seem like a priority when you have so many other things to think about, but it’s important. Because infants lack muscle control, they can easily scratch their delicate skin while waving their hands and kicking their feet. “Babies’ nails grow at different rates so it’s best to monitor the situation and clip every few days as needed,” says Michael Dickinson, a paediatrician in Miramichi, NB. Sit in a well-lit area, enlist someone’s help if she won’t stay still, or cut them using baby-sized clippers while she sleeps. If you’re still nervous about nicks, using a file will allow you to buff away sharp edges and keep growth under control so you can clip less frequently.
If you do draw blood, don’t worry — just hold a sterile gauze pad against the cut, applying mild pressure until it stops. Some parents also nibble their newborn’s soft nails, but this may not be such a great idea: It’s difficult to see what you’re doing and germs from your mouth could infect any small cuts on your baby’s hand. Dickinson recommends sticking to clippers.
2. To the quick
“In my experience, about half of kids bite their nails at some point during childhood,” says Dickinson. Many grow out of the habit, but for some it proves a tough one to break. “The best strategy is to discourage it as soon as it starts,” he says. Try keeping their nails very short so there’s less to nip at, painting them with a bitter polish designed to discourage biting, and distracting them with hands-on activities when you notice them with their fingers in their mouths. A two-year-old may start it out of curiosity or because he’s still teething, but when school-aged kids pick up the habit it could be related to anxiety.
3. Pretty polished
If kids see mom applying polish they may start asking for manis of their own. Kristen Wood, owner of The Ten Spot beauty bars in Toronto, says she occasionally sees older kids in her salons. “We have quickie manicures and pedicures that don’t involve cutting the cuticles or rough scraping the feet, and suggest these for kids,” she says. The scientific jury is still out on whether nail polishes should be used on children, but to be safe, Wood recommends using formulations that are free of potentially harmful ingredients like formaldehyde. That doesn’t mean your daughter can’t use the polishes you already have at home, though. “Applying a base coat under a regular polish will ensure that kids’ skin isn’t in direct contact with any chemicals.”
A version of this article appeared in our August 2012 issue under the headline: “Nailed down” (p. 30).