People say we’re living in crazy times — that the world is more divided than it ever has been.
But we think there’s one thing we can all agree on: There’s nothing cuter than precious baby toes.
Chances are, you’ve numbered and kissed those little piggies countless times. You’ve captured those first moments when your babe discovered their own feet and delightfully held their toes in the air — or even put a big toe in their mouth.
And yes, you’ve held your breath while clipping the tiniest toenails you’ve ever seen — and you and baby have both survived to tell the tale.
But what happens when those little toenails are a source of pain? Ingrown toenails are tough enough when you’re a grown adult, but they can easily leave your little one in a puddle of tears. So how can you treat this baby-sized ailment at home and get back to the giggles and cuddles? Let’s take a look.
Ingrown toenails are really common among people of all ages — including babies. Each toenail and fingernail is surrounded by soft skin, and the nail is supposed to grow over (on top of) this skin. When the nail growth extends into this soft skin at the corners or sides instead, the nail is said to be ingrown.
Some symptoms will depend on the age of your baby, but the most common symptoms of an ingrown toenail that needs treatment are:
- tenderness to the touch
- discharge, such as the oozing of pus, which is a sign of infection
These symptoms will occur at the place where the nail grows into the skin — typically on the big toe, though any nail can become ingrown.
Babies may also pull at the offending toe. The tenderness may cause tears or whimpering when you touch the area. If you have a toddler, they may complain while walking, refuse to put on shoes, or even walk with a limp.
If there’s any kind of discharge, the ingrown nail may be infected. This can cause further symptoms of infection (like fever) and warrants a call to the pediatrician.
First off, infection changes everything. If you see signs of infection (fever, oozing pus, excessive redness and swelling that extends beyond the point where nail meets skin), then home remedies aren’t for you. Take your baby to see their pediatrician.
But in the absence of infection, here are some strategies to ease symptoms and heal the area:
1. Do warm foot soaks
Time for a baby spa day! Actually, this is something you’ll want to try doing twice a day, whether it’s a full-body bath or just putting baby’s feet in warm (not hot!), soapy water. Aim for 10 to 20 minutes.
2. Massage the area
After about 10 minutes of soaking, pat (rather than rub) the area dry. Then gently massage the skin outward at the ingrown toenail. This can loosen the nail enough for it to slip out and return to its proper position, on top of the skin. If baby is willing and enjoys it (that’s the trick to everything, isn’t it?), you can try to gently bend the nail corner upwards.
3. Apply a little antibiotic cream
Applying an over-the-counter antibiotic cream can help reduce irritation and may help prevent infection. However, if your little one is doing the adorable toes-in-the-mouth thing, either avoid this step or do it at bedtime, when the area will remain out of the mouth.
4. Keep the area protected but not confined
This is perhaps a lot easier if your baby isn’t yet walking or crawling, and it’s warm enough to leave them barefoot. If barefoot and clean are two words that just aren’t going to mix in your baby or toddler’s world right now, at least choose footwear (socks or shoes) that’s loose fitting. This allows the ingrown nail to grow with less pressure on the skin rather than become more irritated.
Do these steps for about a week. All the while, your baby’s nails will be growing — and hopefully the ingrown nail will be growing out, even if you haven’t been able to physically dislodge it.
Once your baby’s nails have grown enough to be trimmed, cut them straight across (in other words, don’t curve the corners as you would fingernails).
If after a week the area remains red, swollen, and tender, call your pediatrician.
And, as we’ve already mentioned, discharge or a fever — as well as redness or swelling that has spread — are signs of an infection that needs medical evaluation and treatment.
A lot of parents worry or assume that they’re at fault for a baby ingrown toenail. Let us clear your conscience: Baby ingrown toenails are very common, even if you’re doing everything by the book. Baby nails are soft and grow rapidly — and come in contact with shoes, socks, and more.
Plus, genetics can play a role. Those soft nails are sometimes just prone to growing in a curved or inward way.
While carefully trimming your little one’s nails may help, short nails can become ingrown if cut too close to the skin. And in Parenting 101, you’re not always told how to properly trim toenails (straight across rather than in a curve, which can also lend itself to ingrowth), so you can hardly blame yourself.
Although ingrown toenails are just part of babyhood (and life, for that matter!), for many, there are some things you can do to minimize the risk of your little one getting them too often:
- Avoid shoes and socks that are too tight — no small task, since baby feet grow quickly!
- Trim toenails often, but not too often — every 1 to 2 weeks depending on your baby.
- Use a clipper rather than nail scissors.
- Cut toenails straight across rather than in a curve.
- Lightly file any sharp corners.
- Avoid trimming too close to the skin.
If you still find that your baby has painful ingrown toenails quite often, talk to your pediatrician. There may be something else going on, and your doctor is there to help.