Caring for Newborn Baby Skin & Nails

Caring for baby skin and nails - image

Newborn skin is soft and sensitive, and their tiny nails are like little works of art. So, how do you take care of something so delicate? Let’s dive into some gentle, loving tips to help you keep your little one’s skin and nails in tip-top shape.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Caring for Baby’s Skin

Leave the Vernix

The very first act of caring for baby’s skin begins right after he or she is born. In the womb, babies develop a thick white coating called vernix that covers their skin and protects it from the embryonic fluid surrounding them. This coating is made up of water, fats, and proteins and serves many functions in utero and after delivery. It helps the baby slide out of the birth canal and protects their skin as they adjust to their new environment.

Some babies are born with a thick layer of vernix, while others have hardly any left by the time they are delivered. In the past, doctors and nurses washed vernix off after birth. We now know that by simply rubbing it into your baby’s skin, you can create a barrier to keep moisture in and infection and bacteria out.

Keep Your Baby’s Skin Clean

The next thing you need to know about caring for baby’s skin is to make sure your little one stays clean. When bathing your baby, pay particular attention to places where sweat, dirt, and milk may accumulate — in the folds of skin and rolls, especially around the neck, under the arms and legs, and the diaper area. Avoid bath products that contain fragrance, alcohols, or other ingredients that may irritate and dry sensitive skin. You should pat your baby dry with a towel rather than rubbing to avoid damaging the skin. Then apply a hypoallergenic lotion to protect and moisturize your baby’s skin before dressing them.

While it is important to keep your baby’s skin clean, you don’t want to bathe them too much because it can dry out their skin. Three baths a week during the first year should be plenty. In between baths, make sure to wipe your baby’s skin clean as needed, especially in the diaper area.

Protect Your Baby’s Skin in the Sun

Babies have thin, sensitive skin that is especially prone to burn. Babies younger than six months should avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible. When going out in the sun, dress your baby in lightweight clothing that covers the skin and a hat to protect his head and face. (Make sure that he stays cool enough to keep from overheating.) Apply a baby-safe sunscreen only to the parts of the body that can’t be covered — like the hands and feet, neck, ears, etc. Make sure to apply it 15 minutes before going into the sun, and reapply every 1 1/2 to 2 hours as needed.

When Should I Moisturize My Baby’s Skin?

Actually, the best way to keep your baby’s skin hydrated is from the inside out. Always make sure that they are drinking enough. Illness or a change in weather (hot or cold temperatures) may mean that they need extra feedings to stay hydrated. Exposure to cold temperatures can also cause dry skin, so always cover your baby’s skin before going out into the cold. Sometimes dry air conditions in your home due to heating or cooling can also contribute. You may want to use a cool-mist humidifier in your home to help.

Umbilical Cord Care

Keep the umbilical cord stump clean and dry. Fold the diaper away from it and let it fall off naturally.

Baby Nail Cutting and Care

It is important to keep your baby’s nails as short as possible so that they don’t scratch themselves. The problem is that baby nails grow fast, are paper thin, and are attached high on the fingertip. This makes it easy to cut the skin of the finger by accident. Plus, it can be nearly impossible to hold their little fingers still while you do it. The fear of cutting the baby makes this a dreaded task for new parents.

Tips & Tricks for Safe Nail Care

  1. Wait until baby is sleeping, or possibly during a feeding session when baby is calm, before attempting to cut nails.
  2. Use an emery board to keep the nails filed down rather than clippers so you don’t have to worry about cutting too low on the finger.
  3. If you do decide to trim the nails, use baby nail scissors with rounded tips designed for infants
  4. Put mittens or socks over their hands to keep them from scratching themselves.

How to Cut Baby’s Nails With Scissors

Step 1: Ensure you’re in a space with good lighting.

Step 2: If baby is not asleep, be sure to stabilize baby’s hand or foot.

Step 3: Separate the nail from the finger by pressing the fingertip pad way from the nail to avoid cutting the skin.

Step 4. With your other hand, use the rounded scissors to trim the nail. Follow the natural curve of the fingertip for fingernails, being sure to leave a strip of white nail above the nail bed. For toenails, trim straight across.

Step 5. Check for any sharp or jagged edges. You can use a baby nail file to smooth out any rough nail.

Is it Safe to Bite Your Baby’s Nails?

Some people say that the best way to deal with cutting baby’s nails is to bite them. However, you can’t see the nails while biting them, meaning that you don’t have good control over where the nail is bitten. Also, biting one part of the nail often leads to it tearing the rest of the way across, and you can’t control how it does so. It may tear too far down and hurt baby.

What If I Accidentally Cut My Baby?

Accidents happen, even to the very best of parents. If you accidentally nick the skin, don’t panic. Apply gentle pressure with a clean piece of cloth to stop any bleeding. It will likely stop bleeding quickly and heal without any problems.

Remember, while newborn skin and nails need special care, this is also a wonderful opportunity for bonding. Whether you’re giving a gentle bath, massaging moisturizer onto tiny legs, or carefully trimming those little nails, these moments are precious. Enjoy them, take your time, and know that with each touch, you’re expressing your love and care for your beautiful baby.

Kopa Birth’s online childbirth classes allow you to prepare for a natural childbirth from the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class to learn more about preparing for a natural hospital birth.


  1. Singh, G., ARchana, G. (2008). Unraveling the Mystery of Vernix Caseosa. Indian Journal of Dermatology. 53(2), 54-60.
  2. Nguyen, N. & Maguiness, Sheilagh. (March 2019). Baby Birthmarks & Rashes. American Academy of Pediatrics.
  3. O’Connor, N. R., McLaughlin, M. R. & Ham, P. (2008). Newborn Skin: Part 1. Common Rashes. American Family Physician, 77(1), 47-52.
  4. Baby Sunburn Prevention. (Jan 2013). American Academy of Pediatrics.
  5. Heat Rash. (April 2013). American Academy of Pediatrics.
  6. Cradle Cap. (Nov 2009). American Academy of Pediatrics.
  7. Nail Care: Fingers and Toes. (Nov 2009). American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Meet Katie Griffin

I’m a registered nurse, Lamaze certified childbirth educator, and the mother of 7. I help women realize their dream of a natural, intimate, and empowering hospital birth.

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