APGAR is a quick test performed at 1 and 5 minutes after birth. The 1-minute score determines how well the baby tolerated the birthing process. The 5-minute score assesses how well the newborn is adapting to the new environment.
The rating is based on a total score of 1 to 10, with 10 suggesting the healthiest infant.
How the Test is Performed
The APGAR test is done by a doctor, midwife, or nurse. The health care provider will examine the baby's:
- Breathing effort
- Heart rate
- Muscle tone
- Skin color
Each category is scored with 0, 1, or 2, depending on the observed condition.
- Breathing effort:
- If the infant is not breathing, the respiratory score is 0.
- If the respirations are slow or irregular, the infant scores 1 for respiratory effort.
- If the infant cries well, the respiratory score is 2.
- Heart rate is evaluated by stethoscope. This is the most important assessment:
- If there is no heartbeat, the infant scores 0 for heart rate.
- If heart rate is less than 100 beats per minute, the infant scores 1 for heart rate.
- If heart rate is greater than 100 beats per minute, the infant scores 2 for heart rate.
- Muscle tone:
- If muscles are loose and floppy, the infant scores 0 for muscle tone.
- If there is some muscle tone, the infant scores 1.
- If there is active motion, the infant scores 2 for muscle tone.
- Grimace response or reflex irritability is a term describing response to stimulation such as a mild pinch:
- If there is no reaction, the infant scores 0 for reflex irritability.
- If there is grimacing, the infant scores 1 for reflex irritability.
- If there is grimacing and a cough, sneeze, or vigorous cry, the infant scores 2 for reflex irritability.
- Skin color:
- If the skin color is pale blue, the infant scores 0 for color.
- If the body is pink and the extremities are blue, the infant scores 1 for color.
- If the entire body is pink, the infant scores 2 for color.
Why the Test is Performed
This test is a screening tool to determine whether a newborn needs medical attention to stabilize the heart or breathing function.
A score of 8 or 9 is normal and indicates the newborn is in good condition. A score of 10 is very unusual, since almost all newborns lose 1 point for blue hands and feet, which is normal for the transitional phase after birth.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Any score lower than 8 indicates the child needs assistance. Scores below 5 indicate that the infant needs immediate assistance in adjusting to his or her new environment. However, a child who has a low score at 1 minute and a normal score at 5 minutes should not have any long-term problems.
The APGAR test has no risks. It is very safe.