Monday, September 17, 2018

The Apgar Score? Do You Know Of It?

Baby Newborn Tears Sad Cry Scream Emotion If you've had kids, you probably have heard of the Apgar score.  If not, you'll hear something about it right after you've given birth.  You may have heard of it, on a television show or maybe you've never heard of it.

Today, I plan to give you a bit more information including its history.  This particular medical discovery came about due to a woman's observation of newborns back around 1950.

Dr Virginia Apgar, a well known American anesthesiologist is responsible for the scale named after her.  Before this simple system was developed, many infants who were born blue, had trouble breathing frequently were said to be stillborn because the belief at the time was these infants would have difficulty living and die.  Many could have lived with a bit of oxygen or help.

She became an anesthesiologist because that field was more open to women at that time.  She was good enough to be offered the post of  professor of Anesthesiology at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons which she held for at least a decade. While at this post, she taught students to look at the baby as soon as its born.  The story goes that one day a student asked her what they were supposed to be looking for. Instead of answering directly, she wrote five things on a napkin for him to look at.

This list told students to look at appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, and respiration.  In other words check the heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, appearance etc at birth and then five minutes later.  In 1952, she presented the score at one of the national meetings on anesthesiology and published a paper on it in 1953.  Soon after, this scoring system came into common use at hospitals across the United States and the world.

One reason, the use of the Apgar Score spread so fast is that it is extremely easy to use and to teach trained medical personnel to use it.   The Apgar score ranges from zero to 10.  A perfect 10 indicates the baby has the best possible health while a score of 0 to 3 indicates a need for immediate resuscitation.  Ordinarily, the baby's health is checked at 60 seconds and again 5 minutes later.  It could be done again after 10, 15, or 20 minutes if the child's score is lower.

The invention of this scale also had a side effect that no one could have predicted.  This score lead to the creation of the field of neonatology and the creation of neonatal units to help those little ones with problems.  As time progressed, neonatal care has improved tremendously, allowing babies to survive who might not otherwise make it.

This score helped medical personnel determine the odds of a baby surviving and the type of treatment it might immediately need to survive.  This simple score created by a woman, changed the face of medicine in a short time.  One of the women whose contribution was huge but who we know little about.

Let me know what you think.  I'd love to hear.  I hope you have a great day.


  1. I have known about it for years and was happy when both of my kids passed with flying colors at birth.

    1. I've known about it but I didn't know who came up with it, nor did I know exactly how it was used. I enjoyed finding out more about it.