STEP AWAY FROM THE MITTENS!
Have you seen the meme that compares a baby’s fingernails to the talons of an eagle? Did you nod knowingly? While it’s true that baby fingernails (and toenails for that matter) can feel like instruments of torture (mid-feed nipple grabs anyone?), they’re actually pretty soft. So soft that many parents opt to either gently bend them or use their teeth to nibble them when they need trimming back.
For some parents, those rapidly growing and often sharp nails are a source of concern, so they rush out to buy those (admittedly very cute) mittens for their newborn baby. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to protect your baby - but I’m here to say it’s ok to NOT put mittens on your baby, and it’s ok to take the mittens off occasionally if you do opt to use them. It’s fairly rare for a baby to cause themselves more than a slight scratch with their own nails, and there are actually some great benefits to having bare hands.
Babies of all ages, but especially newborns, are sensory learners. This means that they don’t actively think and cognitively process what they’re doing; instead, they experience the world through their senses, and add every new sight, smell, sound, taste and touch into their sensory database. When they’re a little older and come to revisit an experience again they add new details, and build their knowledge bank. This of course later becomes vocabulary, but until then it is more abstract.
When we think about our senses, it is generally acknowledged that we have five, however researchers have shown there are actually many more. If we concentrate on those five that we’re all taught about in school though, and take one away, it drastically reduces the way we experience the world around us. That’s kinda what happens when you put mittens on a baby - you take away their chance to grasp, stroke, pat, brush, and yes, scratch.
So, to support your baby’s sensory and physical development, put the mittens down. Instead, provide interesting sensory experiences for your baby to explore safely with you. For example, during tummy time, lie baby next to different materials for them to reach out and touch. Go for a walk outside, and bring baby close to plants, and stroke the leaves along the palm of their hand. At bath time, let them grasp the sponge or washcloth, or simply drip water over their hands. These are also great ways to introduce new language to your little one, by naming and describing each experience.
If you’re still worried about your baby scratching themselves, you can try using a nail file to buff their fingernails into soft round edges to minimise the risk. However, do remember, that even a scratch is a learning experience, and babies learn through all experiences, good or scratchy.
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