The Apgar score is a test given to newborns soon after birth. This test checks a baby’s heart rate, muscle tone, and other signs to see if extra medical care or emergency care is needed.
Babies usually get the test twice: 1 minute after birth, and again 5 minutes after they’re born. If there are concerns, a baby may get the test again.
What Does It Check?
The Apgar score measures five things to check a baby’s health. Each is scored on a scale of 0 to 2, with 2 being the best score:
Appearance (skin color)
Pulse (heart rate)
Grimace response (reflexes)
Activity (muscle tone)
Respiration (breathing rate and effort)
Doctors, midwives, or nurses add up these five factors for the Apgar score. Scores are between 10 and 0. Ten is the highest score possible, but few babies get it. That’s because most babies’ hands and feet remain blue until they have warmed up.
What Does My Baby’s Score Mean?
A baby who scores a 7 or above on the test is considered in good health. A lower score does not mean that your baby is unhealthy. It means that your baby may need some immediate medical care, such as suctioning of the airways or oxygen to help him or her breathe better. Perfectly healthy babies sometimes have a lower-than-usual score, especially in the first few minutes after birth.
A slightly low score (especially at 1 minute) is common, especially in babies born:
after a high-risk pregnancy
through a C-section
after a complicated labor and delivery
At 5 minutes after birth, babies get the test again. If a baby’s score was low at first and isn’t better, or there are other concerns, the doctors and nurses will continue any needed medical care. They’ll watch the baby closely.
What if My Baby Has a Low Score?
Many babies with low scores are healthy and do just fine after getting used to life outside the womb.
If your doctor or midwife is concerned about your baby’s score, they’ll let you know and will explain how your baby is doing, what might be causing problems (if any), and what care is being given.