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Caring for Baby Toenails

Preventing and Treating Ingrown Toe Nails

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Updated June 17, 2014

Close up of baby’s feet in grandfather’s hands
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It always amazes me how fast baby toenails grow. Didn't I trim them the other day? Yes. And they need to be trimmed. Again. Your baby's toenails may need some special attention from time to time. You also need to be mindful of ingrown toenails which can be very painful for your baby.

Does My Baby Have an Ingrown Toenail?

Most often you'll see an ingrown toenail develop on the big toe, but any piggy can fall prey. What happens is that the edge of the toenail begins to grow into the skin. That area of the toe will become red, swollen, and may ooze some unpleasant discharge.

Your baby will indicate that the toe is none too comfy by crying when the toe is touched or has pressure place on it. He may suddenly begin to hate his shoes, pull at his toes, or if he is walking, may limp or cry out.

What Causes Baby Toenails to Become Ingrown?

Ingrowns happen more often when nails become too long or if the toenail tends to grow or curve down at the tip of the toe. Additionally, stubbing the toe or wearing socks or baby shoes which are too tight can cause ingrowns.

How Do I Treat the Ingrown Nail?

It is always easier to tend to toe and fingernails which have been soaking in warm water. The warm water can also be a pain soother, so letting your baby splash around for about 10 minutes in gently warm, soapy water is a big help. Afterwards, pat it try and apply a smidge of over-the-counter antibiotic cream. You may want to try this a few times a day.

You can also try to gently file the nail away from the skin. If you can, use your own fingernail or a blunt manicure tool to gently lift the nail up and apply a very small piece of sterile gauze underneath. Be sure to change the gauze frequently throughout the day. If it is a wrestling match to get your baby to sit still for it, try it when he is asleep.

If you sense your baby is in a great amount of pain, you can give a very carefully measured dose of acetaminophen. Be sure to read the package instructions before adminsitering any drug to your baby.

While you are treating the nail, have your baby wear loose fitting shoes and/or socks (or better yet, go barefoot). Likely within a few days, you will begin to see improvement.

Should I Call the Pediatrician?

I wouldn't leap to call the pediatrician before you try some of the above remedies. Keep up with the described treatment regularly for about a week. If you don't see any improvement, then give the doc a jingle. However, if it starts to appear infected, don't hesitate to call. An infection can appear as a dramatic increase of swelling or redness (keep in mind that some is to be expected), or if there is significant discharge or redness streaking up the toe.

How Can Ingrowns Be Prevented?

The best way to prevent ingrowns is to take care to trim nails correctly. Use clean baby fingernail trimmers or a file to keep nails manicured. Toenails should be trimmed straight across, not rounded down at the edges like fingernails are often trimmed. Don't trim them too short, however. Leave a little line of white nail at the tip.

It really key to make sure you trim the nails before they become so long that they tear on their own. Those clean cuts straight across are so much better at preventing that torn, raggedy nail edges.

Finally, you'll notice that not only do your baby's nails grow quickly, so do their feet. Check often to make sure you've got the right shoe size on your baby's little (or not so little) feet.

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