How to Check a Femoral Pulse in a Newborn

A routine examination of a newborn includes checking her femoral pulse, or feeling her heartbeat by pressing on the artery in her groin.

This test may be the first sign of a serious circulatory problem, known as coarctation, or interruption of the thoracic aorta. The femoral artery starts in the lower abdomen and continues down each thigh. According to the National Nursing Review, the physical examination of a newborn should take place within 12 hours of birth, once the baby’s condition is stabilized, for early detection of serious circulatory problems.

Position the baby in a safe location and remove the diaper to expose her groin on both sides. Put a large clock with a sweeping second hand in plain view. Set the clock so you can easily read it without having to hold it in your hands.

Find the newborn's femoral pulse in her groin. The femoral pulse is located about halfway between the two boney prominences between her pubic bone and the crest of her hip bone. Medical professionals would call the area the inguinal ligament near the midpoint between the symphysis pubis and the iliac crest.

Apply gentle pressure with the tips of your index and middle fingers of both hands to the femoral pulses. Feel both sides of the newborn’s femoral pulse at the same time so you can compare them. Both sides should have equal and strong pulses. Diminished pulse usually means poor cardiac output or ineffective vasoconstriction. Poor or unequal pulses indicate possible interruption of the thoracic aorta or other circulatory problems.

Compare the femoral pulse with the newborn’s radial pulse. Locate the baby’s radial pulse on the inside of her wrist, just below her thumb. Apply gentle pressure with the tips of your index and middle fingers to her radial pulse at the same time as you apply pressure to her femoral pulse. You should be able to feel the femoral pulse before you feel the radial pulse. Delayed or weakened femoral pulses as compared to radial pulses indicated possible coarctation of the baby’s aorta.

Count the number of heartbeats in 30 seconds. Multiply the result by two to learn the newborn’s pulse. According to the National Library of Medicine, a newborn’s pulse should be 70 to 190 beats per minute. A sleeping baby has a lower pulse than a crying baby, but a newborn should always have femoral pulses. Follow up absent or abnormal femoral pulses with an echocardiogram and cardiac catherization to confirm coarctation. For best results, check the newborn’s pulse when she is in a calm state and repeat measurements about the same time each day.

Secure the baby’s diaper and wash your hands.