The Apgar Score

Who is tested in order to receive what's known as an Apgar score?

And the answer: newborns.  

Photo credit: Atrium Health

Given to newborns at one minute and again at five minutes after birth, the Apgar test checks a baby's heart rate, muscle tone, and other criteria to determine if extra medical care is needed. In 1952, Dr. Virginia Apgar created the system, and used her own name to describe what the test evaluates: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration.

The Apgar score is primarily used to determine whether or not medical intervention is necessary for newborn babies. In a score ranging from 0 to 2 points in each category, the labor and delivery nurse assesses the baby's independent function and ability. For example, if the baby is blue or pale, it will be awarded 0 points for appearance. But if the baby's heartbeat is greater than 100 beats per minute – which can be a good sign – it will earn 2 points for pulse. The baby can score up to 10 points, a number which indicates that the newborn is functioning normally (and its mama can breathe a sigh of relief). A score of 7 or above is considered functional.

Apgar scores are not predictive tests – they are not used to determine morbidity or mortality. If the score is low (less than 7), it's usually indicative of the stress of the newborn, and that some intervention is needed. Most times, suction or stimulation of the baby will elevate its Apgar score, and medical staff will conduct the test again to greater success.

Learn more about the science of the Apgar score below.

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