What Health Checks Do Newborns Have?

One of the first questions that mothers have about their pregnancy is how do midwives usually know that a newborn is healthy? Well, babies that are born in hospitals are given a series of health checks as soon as they are born. These tests give doctors and midwives an indication of whether the newborn needs urgent medical attention. For those who are planning an unassisted birth, here are some examples of the usual checks a medical professional would do.

newborn health checks

The baby is breathing on its own and getting enough oxygen
A lot of newborns will cry when they are born and this is a good thing, as it tells us that the baby can breathe. However, some babies are quiet, and seem very calm. The very first check that is done is to see if the baby is breathing properly. If so, the chest will be moving as the baby breathes. A newborn baby should also be a nice healthy pink colour. Babies that seem to be a blue or grey colour are not getting enough oxygen, which is another indicator that the newborn is having breathing difficulties. These situations require urgent action. A birthing consultant will be able to advise you on what to do in these cases, well in advance of your due date.

The baby has a normal heart rate
Healthy newborns have a heart rate of over 100 beats per minute. Once a nurse has checked that the baby is breathing properly and has a good colour, they usually do a quick pulse check on the arm or by putting an ear to the baby's chest.

The baby's muscles are moving properly
When the midwife is satisfied with breathing and heart rate, they will want to check that the baby is able to properly flex the muscles in the arms and legs. These tests show whether the muscle tone is normal, and if the baby can move as a newborn should. A baby that lies still and cannot flex the arms and legs is cause for concern.

The baby has normal reflexes
As well as muscle tone, a baby's neonatal reflexes are usually also tested. These include:
  • The grasp reflex, to see if the baby will grasp a finger that is placed in the palm of its hand
  • The Babinski reflex, when the underside of the foot is stroked to see if the toes fan out
  • The rooting reflex, which involves stroking the baby's cheek to see if it will turn towards it and try to latch on as it would to a breast
Later on 
An hour after the baby is born, a midwife also weighs the baby, checks its temperature and measures the circumference of the head. Then, within 72 hours of being born, the baby will receive a full medical check, which is a much more detailed series of health checks. These include checking that the baby can see properly, and may also include a hearing test, which is specially designed for newborns rather than the adult hearing tests provided by sites like Hidden Hearing. There are lots of things to think about during pregnancy and after. The important thing is to be as informed as possible and make sure you write down any questions you might have so that you can ask the doctors and midwife. 

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