Mere seconds after your baby is born, they're already taking their first "test"—and it's an important one called the Apgar test. Wherever your baby falls on the Apgar scale, the number will help them get what they need for a healthy beginning.
What is the Apgar score?
Immediately after delivery, a nurse or other health care provider will set a timer for one minute and another for five minutes. At each of these moments, she will evaluate your baby's general condition, then assign what's called an Apgar score. All babies born in hospitals are assigned an Apgar score to help medical providers know whether they may need extra attention in their first few moments of life.
What does Apgar stand for?
The Apgar test is named for its creator, Virginia Apgar, MD. As a doctor in the early 1950s, she recognized the need for a universal assessment of a newborn baby's condition. Now known as the Apgar scale, it's the standard used at hospital births. Some doctors use its name as an acronym for the test's five measurements: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration. More on these different measurements below.1
What does the Apgar scale measure?1
The Apgar scale measures a baby's overall health at one minute and five minutes after birth. The baby is evaluated on the following criteria:
- Appearance: Is the baby's skin color leaning blue, pink, or in between?
- Pulse: How fast is the baby's heart rate?
- Grimace: How does the baby respond to stimulation such as a light pinch?
- Activity: How is the baby's muscle tone?
- Respiration: How well is the baby breathing?
For each section of the test, the healthcare provider will assess these vital signs before assigning points—either 0, 1, or 2—and adding them up. A total score of 7 or higher is considered normal. Apgar scores between 4 and 6 are below normal, while Apgar scores from 0 to 3 are critically low.
What if my baby's Apgar score is low?
The majority of babies receive a normal Apgar score of 7 or higher, but some babies do not. Any score below 7 is a sign that a baby needs medical attention. Since the Apgar test is performed so soon after birth, it helps the baby's care team know how to best proceed.
What does a perfect Apgar score mean?
Since most babies have blue undertones before their bodies warm up, few get a "perfect 10" on the Apgar scale. But if yours does, congratulations—you've got a very healthy baby2. However, it isn't a predictor of future development or behavior, so no need to work on that Harvard application… yet.
It's helpful to know that your newborn will receive an Apgar score, but don't be surprised if you forget to ask for the number. More likely than not, you'll be so enthralled by your new baby that you'll be too busy to think of anything else.
Babies aren't the only ones who need attention after birth. Find out how to recover with this postpartum recovery guide.