Chop extra baby fingers, toes, tails?

You’ve probably heard about the polydactylic baby recently born in California with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. (Yeah, me too, last week before this blog imploded.  Moving on…)

Photo of a baby's six-fingered hand.

This instance is unusual because the baby has fully developed, fully functioning appendages. Read or watch the story or view the slideshow at KTVU. The hand shown above looks almost like it has two middle fingers.

Everyone is cool about it. The father and mother seem pleased at receiving media exposure, as opposed to hiding their unusual infant. The pediatrician appears to be tickled pink. He’s quoted as saying, “It’s merely an interesting and beautiful variation rather than a worrisome thing,” and he pondered what extra abilities six fingers would give a guitarist or typist.

Photo of a baby's six-toed foot.

On the flip side, the use of certain tools and instruments will be complicated by an extra digit (gloves and shoes being the obvious issues, but there are surely others). The world isn’t oriented toward six-fingered folks, let alone left-handers. You guys survive somehow.

Prior to my first child being born, I debated with my wife whether we’d keep a vestigial tail if our child was born with one. Not that it runs in our family gene pool, but it’s the sort of thing I think about. She’d chop a tail. I’d keep it. Sure, human “tails” are damned ugly, but I’m all for harmless things that make people unique.

It’s perhaps why, when we adopted our cats, I chose two with kinked tails, one who also has two extra toes on each of her front paws. The toes are flawed, with claws that don’t retract. My wife learned early on the fine art of feline nail clipping because the extra claws kept getting caught in our carpet. Today, on our hard floors, you can hear the cat’s silent approach as her extra toes click and clack on the floor.

Curiously, my wife was for keeping our cat’s unique feature, but when it comes to a human baby, she’d chop the extra fingers and toes. I’d keep them. Yes, there will be schoolyard teasing, but hopefully teasing makes you a stronger person… and once you graduate high school you become instantly intriguing among your college cohorts.

I’d hate to limit a person because of a fear of school teasing. School is a bizarre little micro-world that is so, so temporary.

One other downside of six fingers… if your kid grows up to be a villain, he has a distinguishing physical trait that sticks in one’s memory.

What say you? Chop those fingers and toes? What about a tail?


19 Responses to “Chop extra baby fingers, toes, tails?”

  1. Mary says:

    I’d keep the fingers and toes as long as they’re functional. (I don’t think you’d notice until you actually count them). When I first saw the picture, I didn’t see anything unusual until I read your article. I don’t keep up with the news much, too much violence and sad stories – gets me down. If extra finger and or toe would eventually be a health issue or hinder certain use of the hand (except for wearing gloves), then I would have it removed. Although, I grew up with a mother and father who both were born with large, noticeable birthmarks on their face. My father’s was removed and he has a scar on his face that is noticeable. My mother’s remained (she grew up in a country where this type of cosmetic surgery wasn’t affordable to the common masses). Both still wished they hadn’t their marks. It is difficult to tell how a child will grow up with something so different – but other children who can’t have surgery or take some magic pill to make them “normal” grow up just fine. I don’t know how I’d react to a tail, though. I’m kind of 50/50 on that one. Part of me is a bit weirded out about it and being that it is of no use, I’d want it removed. But another part of me would like for my child to choose, too, when he/she is able to make that choice. Tough questions.

    February 17th, 2009 at 6:37 am

  2. KGS says:

    I’m not sure I agree that schoolyard teasing is always harmless. If it’s just a random thing or a few mean kids, fine. But long-term ostracism by nearly everyone would certainly leave a mark, as would many years of bad reactions from adults who should know better.

    My mom (a teacher) once had a “little person” child in her kindergarten class who was so nice and so good at making friends he was soon utterly adored by all his classmates, including those who initially teased him. When older kids teased the boy, the other kindergarteners would gang up to drive the bigger kids away, something I found quite touching. Kids fortunate enough to have the personality traits to overcome initial teasing will be fine despite marks of “difference,” but I think less well equipped kids can really suffer. I can imagine a six-fingered child being either envied for their extra talents or teased horribly, and it’s kind of hard to predict which way it would go.

    February 17th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  3. anastasiav says:

    Totally adorable baby!

    This case is fairly unique because all the fingers and toes seem to work. Much more frequently (in my understanding) the extra digit is just a lump of flesh – non functioning, often lacking even bone structure. In that case, I’d have no problem having it removed.

    Here, of course, its a different thing. The fingers and toes are clearly a fully formed part of the hand and foot. Removing them, in this case, would cause the deformity.

    I can’t honestly think of a good reason not to to have a tail removed.

    February 17th, 2009 at 10:40 am

  4. Sara says:

    There was a kid in my class in jr. high who had his 6th finger removed. I don’t know if it started to cause problems, or if it was his choice to have it removed. I just remember thinking it was cool that he had an extra finger. I don’t know why, but my initial reaction to an extra finger is “cool” but to a tail is “weird.” I would for sure have a tail removed. I think because we already have fingers, so it’s just an extra of what is considered normal. But a tail, well, that is more of an abnormal growth.

    February 17th, 2009 at 10:45 am

  5. Magda says:

    I had an extra thumb when I was born (no bones/functionality, evidently), and the doctor tied a string around it. After a week, it fell off. Unfortunately, the doctor didn’t do such a great job, and I had a little flap of skin at the base of my thumb until I had back surgery when I was 16. Until then, I kept getting the flap of skin slammed in doors, etc., and all that was inside was nerve endings (sort of an unprotected funny bone).

    The interesting thing for me is that, because the extra digit was on my right hand, they knew to look for “something else wrong”: I had congenital scoliosis. If the extra digit were on my left hand, they would have assumed that nothing else was wrong.

    All of this is hearsay from my parents, with no pictures.

    Depending on the technology/reputation to remove extra digits, I’d definitely have them removed. But I’d take pictures beforehand.

    February 17th, 2009 at 3:12 pm

  6. Amber says:

    I went to school with a girl with a fairly large brown birthmark on her face.

    No one teased her about it, because she was part of the “cool” group. But I guarantee, if she had been a little nerdy, or poor, that she would have been teased mercilessly.

    Granted, fingers are useful appendages and removing them would mean painful healing, but quite frankly I think living in our society is hard enough without starting out your social career with something SO different. School might be a micro-world, but it’s not so bizarre or really all that different from adult life, just a bit more magnified. People are just better at doing it behind your back when you grow up.

    I’d chop the extra bits.

    February 17th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

  7. Christy says:

    A tail? I would definitely chop that off. Why? It’s odd. And I couldn’t imagine burdening my kid with that.

    A finger? I’m not sure what I would do.

    And whew. I’m glad I’m not the only one that automatically goes to Princess Bride quotes when faced with 6 digits….

    February 17th, 2009 at 6:46 pm

  8. Stephanie says:

    While this may be a great case of evolution at a more physical level, social Darwinism would probably be a nightmare for this kid. I’d like to think we raise our children to be accepting to those who might have an extra digit, but in the real world, kids can be pretty mean.

    February 18th, 2009 at 9:51 am

  9. Molly says:

    I saw the interview with his parents last week, and was struck by how proud and happy they were about this. Given that, I bet this child will grow up with a positive attitude about his extra fingers and toes and would deal well with any teasing.

    I have a pretty prominent mole next to my right eye. When I was very young, my mother told me that women used to draw a brown or black dot next to a particularly nice feature – their mouth or eyes – as a “beauty mark” that would call people’s attention to the feature. She said that I was born with a beauty mark because I had such beatiful eyes. Because she said that, it never bothered me. In fact, I never even realized it was a mole at all until I was about 12 years old. I was at a friend’s house and somehow birth marks came up in conversation around the dinner table. I proudly said “I have a birth mark” and pointed next to my eye. Her mother squinted down the table at me then said “I see a mole…maybe the birth mark is next to it.” It’s all in your viewpoint, I guess.

    February 18th, 2009 at 1:20 pm

  10. Carrie says:

    When I delivered this past spring, the pediatrician at the hospital told us she sees babies with extra fingers or toes about once a week. I was shocked, but it’s apparently not that unusual. Most parents opt to have them removed, but it’s considered lucky in some cultures apparently.

    February 18th, 2009 at 6:38 pm

  11. Pippin says:

    When my husband and I saw the news story, he started quoting The Princess Bride too.

    As a musician (guitar, mandolin, bass, other strings, and flute), I would LOVE an extra functional digit. It might have helped my poor piano playing too.

    A tail though? You aren’t the only one who had that discussion with your spouse while your child was in utero. (That, coupled with your movie pop culture bits make me think you and your wife would get along well with my family). Somehow a tail just makes me all squicky. It would definitely get the axe. Or scalpel, I guess.

    A really good book to read is “Geek Love” by Katherine Dunn. I think you might find it interesting.

    February 18th, 2009 at 8:46 pm

  12. Nicki says:

    Sorry, but a tail would probably have to go. The poor kid would be called monkey, dog, anything. A doomed social life for sure.

    Now extra fingers, however, would probably be considered fun. Expecially if the child himself had a positive outlook on them. If he hides them from everybody and is embarrased, then he’s definitely going to get teased. I they were functional I think I might wait until my child was old enough to decide on his own. If they weren’t functional I’d have them removed. (I have 2 friends who were born with extra fingers.)

    Extra toes will definitely make shoe shopping a chore. So, I can’t say for sure, but I’d probably nix them, too.

    February 19th, 2009 at 6:41 am

  13. Nancy Reed says:

    I think I am uniquely qualified to weigh in here. I was born with six functioning toes on each foot. I had the extras removed when I was four (my parents went back and forth on it until then). It was never viewed as a negative in my family, in fact I can still remember counting my toes and coming up with twelve. :) However, I’m glad they are gone, because even though I have narrow feet, the “pinky” toe always rubs up against the sides of my shoes. Finding shoes would be impossible if I still had the extra toes. I still have the scars and pictures to remember them by, and I get all the fun of telling the story without actually having to deal with the complications.

    When my daughter was born, the first thing out of my mouth was “How many toes?” as I have heard polydactylism can be hereditary. (She had ten.) If she had extra toes, I’d look into removing them too. Fingers would be a bit trickier I think, especially if the “extra” is in the middle of the hand instead of the outside (ie two pinkys).

    So that’s my two cents (two toes? :) )

    February 20th, 2009 at 7:30 pm

  14. Christy B. says:

    Extra digits are fine and dandy, but apparently if you have a tooth growing out of your gum, you get married off to the neighbor’s dog so you won’t be attacked by wild animals.

    February 23rd, 2009 at 11:47 am

  15. Sarah says:

    Hi I have recently had a son who was born with 6 functioning fingers on each hand and six fuctioning toes on each foot and my partner and I are unsure of what do at the moment so if anyone else has been through this I would love to hear about it.

    May 7th, 2009 at 6:25 pm

  16. Izzy says:

    I have an extra thumb on my right hand.(with bone and finger nail) My parents didn’t want it removed when i was a baby because they think that’s since it’s my finger they want me to decide whether i want it removed or not. And i do get teased sometimes at school, and i remember one time, got home crying and told my mom that i want it removed ‘immediately!’ lol. Well I’m 22 years old now, i still have my extra thumb. It doesn’t cause me any harm or anything other then on and off joint pain. But other than that, it doesn’t bother me that much. Until this day I’m still conflicted on whether i should have the surgery or not.

    May 18th, 2009 at 10:11 am

  17. i am one of them says:

    i was one of those born with both 6 fingers and 6 toes…it came from my german mothers ancestry…my father treated it as an embarrassment even tho he was quiet about it…knowing growing up i was a “freak” i mostly kept to myself…now that i`m older i`ve learned thru the birth of my children that “freak” lineage ended with me ,thankfully. to this day , even when corrected, i never remove my socks in public or in front of anyone not even my wife. to be this different really blows.

    August 1st, 2009 at 9:27 pm

  18. JOY PROX says:


    August 17th, 2009 at 4:29 pm

  19. Alexandra Perez says:

    Hi, my baby girl was also born with 12 fingers and 12 toes but not fully developped they attach to the little ones. However, in my family we had the fingers but not the toes. My husband and i have decided to have them remove soon. The baby is only 6 months old. What do u think we should do.

    September 21st, 2009 at 2:10 pm

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