Newborn check up: Your baby’s first hospital tests

by Maria Martin |

Your newborn baby’s health will be checked immediately after birth. It’s hard to hand your precious baby over so soon after birth, but it’s a lot easier if you understand exactly what’s going on. From their apgar test to their baby hearing test, this is what the professionals are doing during your baby's first hospital tests and check-ups...

Why does your newborn have a check-up after birth?

In the moments after delivery, your newborn will be the centre of attention, not only for you and your partner but for the midwives and doctors too. They will carry out a series of routine tests to ensure that your baby is healthy, and further checks will be performed in the maternity ward. The NHS explains that "The aim is to spot any problems early so treatment can be started as soon as possible". It is strongly recommended that you allow your baby to be checked but it is not compulsory. You can decide whether your baby is examined for all or some of the conditions.

The Apgar score: What is it?

The first test your baby will have is the Apgar score, which a midwife will do straight after birth. Apgar stands for Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration. Its purpose is to quickly evaluate your baby’s physical condition and to see if she needs any extra care.

Your midwife or doctor will give your baby the Apgar score twice, the first at one minute after the birth, then at five minutes after the birth.

The Apgar score checks your baby’s heartbeat, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes and skin colour. A score of 0, 1 or 2 will be given for each check, with a total of 10. A normal score is seven or over.

A score of 0, 1 or 2 will be given for each check, with a total of 10

If your baby has a low first score – for instance, if she’s been affected by pethidine (a sedative and muscle relaxant which helps you deal with contractions) – but a normal second score, this is counted as normal.

Your baby will also be weighed, the fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of her head) checked, and her head circumference and body length measured and looked over for any obvious abnormalities or bruising that may have occurred during the birth.

Your newborn’s first physical examination and tests

Within her first 24 hours, your baby will have a complete physical check-up. If you give birth in the hospital this will be done by a doctor or paediatrician. If you have a home birth, it will be carried out by your midwife or GP. The examination will include:

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1) Heart and lungs

In the minutes after your baby's arrival, your midwife will monitor your baby’s breathing pattern and check their heart with a stethoscope. In addition, their lungs will be checked to make sure they are clear of fluid and working. In the first few days, your baby’s pattern of circulation undergoes a major change, so irregularities are not uncommon.

When do I get the results of the newborn tests?

The NHS explains that "The health professional carrying out the examination will give you the results straight away. If your baby needs to be referred for more tests, they'll discuss this with you there and then, too". However, most babies pass these tests easily. If there are problems, most usually resolve themselves in the coming weeks without treatment. Your GP or midwife will give you more advice if a problem is found.

If your baby is healthy, her next screening will be scheduled six to eight weeks after birth, when several of these tests are repeated. All results will be noted down in your baby's child health record, sometimes known as the red book. You have to keep this safe at all times so you can show it to health professional on visits.

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