When Pixie was a toddler I found myself facing a dilemma: my daughter would not allow me anywhere near her nails to cut them. In hindsight, the disproportionate level of stress this induced seems a little silly, but at the time it felt like a disaster: I couldn’t bear the thought of being that mum who cut her child with the clippers. But I did eventually find a way, so I thought I’d share my solution for how to cut baby nails safely, in case you too are struggling. 

Initially I told myself it would just be a short phase and I’d cut them a few days later; then I realised the longer ones on her tiny toes were beginning to curl over and I had to find a way to trim my baby’s nails before they became a problem.

Of course, there’s such a thing as being ‘cruel to be kind’, and – yes – I could have chosen to overpower her and hold her down to get the job done.

But that felt so wrong – I didn’t want to be that mother either. This was becoming a genuine source of anxiety

Woman Screaming

Tips for Cutting Baby’s Nails

I sought help from friends and Google, and there was a lot of advice:

  • Bite them off;
  • Make it into a game: one of mine, one of teddy’s – one of hers;
  • When she’s in her highchair cut them under the tray so she can’t see;
  • Trim a couple each day until they’re all done;
  • Make it fun by giving her a ‘manicure’;
  • Do it in her sleep.

Over the course of several days I tried them all. Nothing worked.

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I tried coaxing and bribing; I tried while she was napping (ruined that sleep, dammit); I tried when she was in actual bed at night – until I almost woke her up three times and lost my nerve.

Pixie is nothing if not stubborn. I was starting to panic.

In the event I did – of course – find an answer. And I want to share that with you today, in case you suffer the same fate with your contrary child.

Baby Nursing

How to Cut Baby Nails Safely

Pixie naps in her pushchair. Every. Single. Day. This is both a blessing and a curse:

  • I can be anywhere and need only stick her in the pushchair and take her for a walk: blessing.
  • I can be anywhere and if I don’t have her pushchair with me, she ain’t napping: curse.
  • It doesn’t matter where we are, if she’s napping, she’s portable: blessing.
  • If she falls asleep in the car, she is very definitely not portable: curse.

Turns out snoozing in the pushchair has another blessing too…

In desperation I took her nail clippers out of the house when we went for our daily walk to get her to nap.

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Pixie fell asleep close to town and I debated stopping on the pavement to quickly deal with the matter at hand… And then I bottled it for fear of my daughter being removed from my care when the nice Doctors were called to take me away…

We continued our walk to our local Costa, and I continued to frantically think up a way to get the job done quickly, but without an audience.

When we arrived, we were (praise Mother Nature) still in the midst of The Magic Window – the divine zenith during which not even an earthquake would rouse my sleeping beauty. I had ten precious minutes.

I zipped into the baby change loo and painstakingly – silently – cut every one of her nails, as deftly and stealthily as possible (being very careful to avoid putting my bum too close to the hand dryer, lest its din ruin my good work).

It may be an unorthodox solution for painlessly trimming baby nails but parenting is hard and I take my wins where I can get them. If it works then go with it, right?

Trimming Baby Nails With Zero Fuss

I continued to use that method until something changed and Pixie relented: shortly after I was able to cut all twenty of her nails, at home, with minimal fuss. She’s growing up. Sob.

I also painted her nails for her recently. The occasion was that mummy desperately needed to get ready for a business meeting (which included painting my nails) before nanny arrived to take over childcare.

Naturally, almost as though she could smell my rising anxiety levels as time ran away, Pixie became a limpet, refusing to allow me to finish my essential ablutions. So, against my better judgement, I allowed her to emulate mama and have coral toenails the same as mine. Yep, it looked garish on a 22 month old, but needs must.

How to Cut Baby's Nails

For the foreseeable, ie. for as long as I can get away with it, we’re back to plain nail trimming. Here’s hoping Pixie’s fickle nature doesn’t extend to an irrational fear of the clippers – because if so, once the Magic Window ceases I will be in big trouble…

And I have a cold, creeping fear that in our house the end of the nap is nigh. And I dread that day almost as much as I dread opening the kitchen cupboard after a bad night with Pixie to find we’re out of coffee.

How did you overcome the nail-cutting dilemma with your little one? And what age do you think is acceptable for painting a toddler’s nails?


Mindful Parenting, Newborns and babies

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is an experienced breastfeeding advocate, and expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.


  1. I wish I was liberated and frivolous Reply

    I feel the first paragraph of this piece is completely unrelated to the topic matter of the article, not only that, it is more than a little insulting to those of us who aren’t married with children, but what do I know; I’m just “moving from one selfish act to the next”.

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      Oh dear… I merely meant selfish as in independent.

      As with the vast majority of my posts, this was written with tongue in cheek and a degree of cynicism.

      Apologies if I inadvertently caused offence. Thanks for your input! I hope I’ve not scared you away forever.

  2. Rebecca Taylor Reply

    Oh Kate. I can completely relate. Ernie has always been the same until the past two weeks. I’ve never cut them. I was always too terrified so hubby has always had to do it as he is much better at these things. It has always been a struggle though and I’ve always had to leave the room! Last week he let him do it without a fuss!
    It’s so bizarre how they just suddenly adapt. They certainly are growing up.
    I hope pixie continues to be okay with the clippers.
    Great article. Thank you for sharing xx

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      I’m glad it’s not just me who has struggled – it was a genuine fear at one time! Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll soon be able to cut Ernie’s nails yourself! Xx

  3. I have absolutely ALWAYS struggled with this.
    My 2 year old hates it, and screams..therefore wriggles so I can’t do it.
    And my 1 year old is the wriggliest human being ever, so I can’t do it! BUT he does often fall asleep in the pushchair, so I may have to give it a go!

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      It’s awful isn’t it! I’m so relieved that Pixie is good about me doing it now, otherwise I’d still be going for coffee to do it!

      Best of luck!

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