Physical Examination of the Newborn

Picture of a physician listening to a newborn

A complete physical examination 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 examination of a newborn often includes assessment of the following:

  • Vital signs:

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

    • Pulse. Normally 120 to 160 beats per minute

    • Breathing rate. Normally 30 to 60 breaths per minute

  • General appearance. Physical activity, tone, posture, and level of consciousness

  • 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. 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 of urine and stool

  • Nerves. Reflexes (Moro reflex), cranial nerves, abnormal (or lack of) movements

  • Arms and legs. Movement and development

Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 12/27/2013
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