Have you heard of the APGAR score? It is the very first test given to your baby. The APGAR score was developed by Dr. Virginia Apgar, an obstetrical anesthesiologist, in 1952. It is still used all over the world to quickly evaluate a baby after birth. Dr. Apgar is also a pivotal figure in the history of the March of Dimes. She served as the first Medical Director and she helped to redirect the March of Dimes mission from polio to birth defects and other infant health problems, including premature birth.
What is the APGAR score?
The APGAR score is designed to check your baby’s condition at 1 minute and 5 minutes after birth. Your baby is checked for five things:
A – Appearance; skin color
P – Pulse rate
G – Grimace; reflex (measured by placing a bulb syringe in the baby’s nose and seeing the response)
A – Activity; muscle tone
R – Respiration
Each category is given a score ranging from 0-2. The numbers are then added up for a final score. Babies who receive an APGAR score of 7 or more probably have come through delivery fine and are in good condition. A score of less than 7 quickly indicates whether the newborn needs special observation or, perhaps, medical attention to address or prevent a more serious problem. The baby can be referred to the appropriate specialist within moments of birth. The swift medical attention may be a lifesaver.
While the APGAR score is an accurate and very helpful tool for medical personnel it cannot predict how healthy your baby will be in the future. It simply evaluates how your baby is responding after the birth process and if he may need some additional assistance as he adapts to his new environment.
The strength of the APGAR score is its simplicity. While the score has been refined over the past 60 years, it has rarely been improved.
Dr. Apgar and the March of Dimes
Dr. Apgar joined the March of Dimes in 1959. After a severe epidemic of rubella (German measles) in 1964 and 1965 that resulted in thousands of birth defects and fetal deaths, she initiated March of Dimes programs to promote rubella immunization. She also promoted the effective use of Rh immune globulin in pregnant women to prevent hemolytic disease of the newborn due to Rh incompatibility.
In 1972, Dr. Apgar helped to convene the first Committee on Perinatal Health. A joint effort of the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the March of Dimes, this committee developed a plan to improve maternal-fetal health and reduce infant mortality. In 1976, the committee produced the landmark study, Toward Improving the Outcome of Pregnancy, which set forth a model for the regionalization of perinatal care in the United States.
June 7th is Dr. Apgar’s birthday. Dr. Apgar is remembered as a caring, enthusiastic teacher, colleague, and physician. Her enduring legacy still influences the mission of the March of Dimes today and her accomplishments continue to improve the health of babies all over the world.