What Are Apgar Scores?

Your baby has been living in a fluid-filled sac for nine or ten months. When your baby is introduced into the world, there can be a bit of sensory overload.  Doctors have developed a system to test just how well your baby is adjusting to the outside world.

You may have heard this term used but don’t know what it means, or may not know what the scale of 0 to 10 means for your baby. We’ll examine the use and meaning of the Apgar scores.

Apgar Scores
The term “Apgar Score” is named after a doctor, Virginia Apgar, who first introduced the system that we use today for rating newborns as to their adjustment to the world after birth. There are five criteria that are measured with the Apgar scorecard:

  • Activity
  • Pulse and heart rate
  • Grimace (test reflexes)
  • Appearance (skin coloration)
  • Respiration (breathing)

You’ll notice that the criteria form an anagram of Dr. Apgar’s name. The top score in each category is 2, for a total of 10. Like most scores based on this scale, a perfect 10 is not normally achieved.

The scoring is done one minute after delivery, and then again at five minutes. It is not a test of future success but rather how well your baby is doing right after delivery. Health care personnel will administer extra care in areas that score consistently low.

Reasons for Low Apgar Scores
There are several reasons why some scores may be low at the outset. Babies born of high risk pregnancies, multiple births, and babies born by cesarean sections can score low after birth. With a little extra attention, their scores will often improve, sometimes by as early as the five minute mark.

Low respiration could result from a premature delivery. The lungs are often underdeveloped. But, with further intensive care, the baby can do just fine. Breathing issues could be a result of meconium (baby’s first stool) aspiration. Using a bulb to suck out the meconium immediately after birth can improve the respiration portion of the Apgar score.

Apgar scores are a diagnostic tool for doctors and other health care professionals to rate your baby’s particular needs right after the birth. It is not an indicator for future behavior or health, but gives the hospital staff the tools and information they need to care for your baby in the best way possible.