What Are Apgar Scores And What Does My Baby’s Score Mean?

Ally Villar
·5-min read

As soon as you give birth, you’ll notice the medical professionals in the room picking up your newborn and checking if he’s breathing. They will instantly follow this up by sharing a few–what may seem like random–numbers with each other. But these numbers aren’t just any off-the-cuff figures. They help doctors and nurses determine how your baby is doing and are commonly called the Apgar scores.

These scores assigned a minute after labour are especially useful to assess heart rate and umbilical artery blood gases in your baby.

But how do the medical professionals assess and assign these Apgar scores and what does it mean if your baby is given a score of 1? Let’s find out.

What Do Apgar Scores Check?

apgar scores
apgar scores

Image source: iStock

The Apgar scores are assigned to newborns after 1 minute and 5 minutes of their birth.

  • The 1 minute score is to determine how well your baby handled the birthing process

  • While, the 5 minute score is to check how your baby tolerates being out of the womb.

The test may be given again if your baby is found to have a few concerns regarding their condition.

Interestingly, the word ‘Apgar’ comes from Dr. Virginia Apgar who created the system in 1952. Since then, medical professional have used this benchmark to determine a newborn’s health. It is now an acronym that stands for and checks the following:

  • Appearance or the skin colour of your baby.

  • Pulse of your newborn’s heart rate after birth.

  • Grimace response or reflex which is judged by placing either a catheter or syringe to your baby’s nose to check for their response.

  • Activity or their muscle tone.

  • Respiration, which is your baby’s breathing rate and effort.

All of these are examined and your baby’s Apgar scores are assigned after the birthing process.

The American Academy of Pediatrics clarifies that while this test can not necessarily predict how your little one will grow up and develop. But it can alert the medical professionals if the baby is slow to respond to stimulation and if he/she needs further assistance in adapting to the new surroundings.

How Is Your Baby Scored During The Apgar Test

Image source: iStock

Apgar scores are based on five factors. Your newborn will be examined on these factors to check the overall health and each would be scored on a scale of 0 to 2.

A score of 2 is the best a newborn can get for each factor. Then all the figures be added up for a final score between 0 to 10. Your doctor, midwife or a nurse will typically add up your baby’s Apgar scores.

While 10 is the highest possible score, only a few babies are given this score. That’s because most newborns still come out with their hands and feet blue, until they are warmed up enough.

Take a look at how these scores look, what they mean and how your baby will be scored in the table below.

Apgar Scoring System

Apgar Score

0

1

2

Appearance

Bluish-grey or pale skin

Pink skin with bluish hands and feet

Normal pink skin

Pulse

Absent or no pulse found

Heart rate is below 100 beats per minute

Normal heart rate with above 100 beats per minute

Grimace response

Absent or no response whatsoever

Grimaces only with stimulation

Grimaces, coughs, sneezes, pulls away or cries

Activity

No movement and is limp

Can flex arms and legs a bit

Active movements

Respiration

Absent or no breathing

Breathing is slow and irregular; cries weakly

Normal breathing rate and effort; can cry strongly

What Does Your Baby’s Apgar Score Tell You?

Image source: iStock

  • 7 or above: Newborn babies are considered to be in good health if they score a 7 or above, which is usually the case in most births.

  • Between 5 and 7 at one minute: Your baby might have gone through some problems during the birthing process and it may have lowered the oxygen in their blood to get this score. But don’t worry, the hospital staff will do their best to improve their oxygen supply so his/her 5-minute score can end up somewhere between 8 and 10.

  • Less than 5: Only a small percentage of babies get this score. Babies who are born prematurely or delivered through emergency C-section have a higher chance of getting low scores. This may be due to the complications your baby had during labour. It may also indicate problems with their heart or respiratory system, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

However, these low scores aren’t that bad. Getting a low score does not mean your newborn is unhealthy. It only means that they just need some immediate medical care that may include helping them breathe better by providing oxygen.

If your baby’s score does cause a sign for concern, your doctor or midwife will let you know. They may even suggest the type of care as well as treatment your baby will need.

Yes, being a new parent may be overwhelming, and the process of labour and scoring doesn’t make things easier. But just remember that this crucial measure is what is needed to get your baby the additional help he/she needs. Once your little bub is settled well by the medical professionals, it is only a matter of time that you’ll have a healthy and happy baby back home.

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