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Physical Exam of the Newborn

Picture of a physician listening to a newborn

A complete physical exam is an important part of newborn care. Each body system is carefully examined for signs of health and normal function. The doctor also looks for any signs of illness or birth defects. Physical exam of a newborn often includes assessment of the following:

  • Vital signs:

    • Temperature. Able to maintain stable body temperature of 97.0°F to 98.6°F (36.1°C to 37°C) in normal room environment

    • Heartbeat. Normally 120 to 160 beats per minute. It may be much slower when an infant sleeps.

    • Breathing rate. Normally 40 to 60 breaths per minute

  • General appearance. Physical activity, muscle tone, posture, and level of consciousness or whether or not an infant is awake and alert

  • Skin. Color, texture, nails, presence of rashes

  • Head and neck:

    • Appearance, shape, presence of molding (shaping of the head from passage through the birth canal)

    • Fontanels (the open "soft spots" between the bones of the baby's skull)

    • Clavicles (bones across the upper chest)

  • Face. Eyes, ears, nose, cheeks. Presence of red reflex in the eyes

  • Mouth. Roof of the mouth (palate), tongue, throat

  • Lungs. Breath sounds, breathing pattern

  • Heart sounds and femoral (in the groin) pulses

  • Abdomen. Presence of masses or hernias

  • Genitals and anus. Open passage for of urine and stool and normally formed male and female genitals

  • Nerves. Reflexes (for example, the Moro or startle reflex), cranial nerves (for example, eye movement), abnormal (or lack of) movements

  • Arms and legs. Movement and development

Last Reviewed Date: 11/03/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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