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The best hospitals in America to have a baby - Special Report

They're family-friendly, forward-thinking in a word, outstanding. We combed the country and found the top 10 hospitals in which to give birth. plus: 5 fabulous birth centers, 5 beloved obstetricians and 5 wonderful midwives.

No one can predict what childbirth will be like, but you can control many of the circumstances by carefully choosing where you have your b all of your efforts and planning--reading books, attending childbirth classes, amassing diapers and baby clothes--there's no way you want to leave those all-important final hours of pregnancy to chance. That's why we undertook the huge task of identifying some of the best places across the United States to give birth.

* Of course, not everyone has the freedom to select where she'll have her baby. You may have chosen your obstetrician first and will deliver wherever your doctor has admitting privileges. Or your health insurance plan may limit your choices. But knowing what qualities in a hospital to look for and learning what options are possible can help you work to effect positive changes in your area.

* In our search, we looked at a variety of factors (see "How We Made Our Selections," pg. 73) and found a wide range of policies, perks and philosophies when it comes to childbirth. Remember, however, that most hospitals provide many choices. Ask for a tour and inquire about features you're interested in (check hospital Web sites for virtual tours). We found that many hospitals will negotiate with families who have a special request--such as allowing the baby's sibling to attend the birth--even if there's no specific policy on the issue.

* There are many excellent hospitals in the United States; narrowing them down to 10 was difficult. That said, based on the criteria we looked at, here (in alphabetical order) are the facilities that stand out. We've also singled out five excellent birth centers and, because the person who delivers your baby is at least as important as the place where you give birth, 10 outstanding OBs and midwives. Use these profiles as your guideposts.

* THE 10 BEST HOSPITALS

BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER BOSTON, MASS.

What makes for an outstanding obstetrics unit? The folks at Beth Israel Deaconess believe it's the nurses: Many of the hospital's obstetrics nurses have a master's degree in nursing. Continuity of care is valued, too. "We try to see that the same nurse or nurses care for a patient throughout her stay," says Riki MacKillop, administrative manager of the hospital's obstetrics and gynecology department. Creature comforts abound at Beth Israel as well: The newly renovated postpartum rooms have mini refrigerators, VCRs, wall safes and hair dryers. THE EXTRA MILE: A unique mentoring program called Parent Connection pairs each new mother with an experienced mom, who provides support and advice for 12 weeks after delivery. 617-667-7000, www.bidmc.harvard.edu.

FLORIDA HOSPITAL ORLANDO ORLANDO, FLA.

Flexibility is the watchword at Florida Hospital Orlando's maternity unit. For example, the hospital lets families negotiate with their physician or nurse-midwife over who can attend the birth. "We work with the mother to develop a birth plan that will give her the experience she wants," says Connie S. Warren, assistant vice president of the hospital's Women's and Children's Services. Within minutes of a birth, a lullaby is piped over the public address system. Says Warren, "It is so sweet,, it stops you in your tracks." THE EXTRA MILE: In Birthday Suite rooms, mom and dad can share a queen-size bed, with their baby in a cradle at their side. 407-303-5600, www.flhosp.org (click on "Locations").

HENNEPIN COUNTY MEDICAL CENTER MINNEAPOLIS, MINN.

Like the progressive city it's located in, Hennepin County Medical Center's birth center is forward-thinking in many ways. The hospital first granted midwives admitting privileges in 1971 and now has a separate midwife-birth unit. Patients who need high-tech services also receive thoughtful attention. For example, all obstetric nurses are trained in C-section care so patients can have the same nurse before and after surgery. Serving a diverse population of Spanish, Somali, Hmong and Russian ethnic groups, the hospital makes every effort to respect cultural birth traditions. THE EXTRA MILE: 50 interpreters who speak 20 languages are on staff. 612-347-2121, www.hcmc.org.

MAGEE-WOMENS HOSPITAL OF UPMC HEALTH SYSTEM PITTSBURGH, PA.

Despite its large size--about 8,000 babies are born here each year--Magee celebrates birth with each family. For example, the hospital offers room service to patients and their families, and new parents can enjoy a candlelight dinner on their baby's birth day. But Magee also emphasizes research and technology: A new intensive-care unit is designed for the most high-risk deliveries. For low-risk deliveries, the hospital strives to achieve vaginal birth for women who want it. In fact, Magee's rate of primary C-sections in 2001 was 13.2 percent, well below the national average of 22.9 percent. THE EXTRA MILE: Families receive a complimentary memory book and may buy photos, videos, keepsake jewelry and personalized baby books at the hospital. 412-641-1000, www.magee.edu.

SHARP MARY BIRCH HOSPITAL FOR WOMEN SAN DIEGO, CALIF.

A woman who gives birth at Sharp has a diverse staff of professionals--including lactation consultants, social workers, clinical specialists and clergy--at her disposal, all part of the hospital's focus on family-centered care. Its Mother's Milk Depot allows nursing women from the community to donate breast milk to premature or sick babies in the hospital's neonatal intensive-care unit or other local hospitals. THE EXTRA MILE: Families can take hospital expertise home in the form of written materials and a baby-care video or CD-ROM. 858-541-3400, www.sharp.com/hospital/.

ST. ELIZABETH MEDICAL CENTER EDGEWOOD, KY.

While part of a large, fully equipped medical center, St. Elizabeth's Family Birth Place strives to operate like a small community hospital, with all the warmth and personal care that implies. During the pregnancy, each family meets privately with an obstetrics nurse to discuss delivery options and childbirth classes. Once mom arrives, she checks into a private room, where she stays until discharged. St. Elizabeth's is a designated Baby-Friendly hospital (an honor awarded by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund). Such hospitals are required to follow 10 steps that help mothers successfully breastfeed; they include encouraging the mother to nurse her baby within one hour of birth. THE EXTRA MILE: Parents may post their newborn's picture on the hospital Web site for free. 859-344-2000, www.stelizabeth.com.

ST. JOHN'S HOSPITAL SPRINGFIELD, ILL.

St. John's holds a World Health Organization and UNICEF Baby-Friendly designation, which means that breastfeeding support is a priority. Its highly regarded birth center, located in the hospital's Carol Jo Vecchie Women & Children's center, reflects its namesake's commitment to family life. THE EXTRA MILE: Doula services are offered, and certified massage therapists from the hospital's Center for Mind-Body Medicine can help ease patients' labor pain. 217-544-6464, www.st-johns.org.

ST. LUKE'S-ROOSEVELT HOSPITAL CENTER NEW YORK. N.Y.

Maternity patients can enjoy both high-tech hospital care and the homeyness of the city's first in-hospital birth center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt. The Birthing Center is staffed by midwives as well as obstetricians, and patients who experience complications can be transferred to fully equipped operating/delivery rooms only one floor away. THE EXTRA MILE: A comfortable family room is right next to the birthing room, and there are few restrictions on who may be present during the birth. 212-523-4000, www.wehealnewyork.org.

UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS OF CLEVELAND MACDONALD WOMEN'S HOSPITAL CLEVELAND, OHIO

Attention to safety as well as comfort is the hallmark at University Hospitals, where 30 percent of maternity patients are high risk. MacDonald Women's Hospital has an attached level III neonatal intensive-care unit, and doctors or residents are in-house at all times. When babies need to stay for medical care, parents can remain close by in special sleep rooms. THE EXTRA MILE: Midwives are allowed to deliver babies on site, doula services are available, and mom and baby are cared for by one nurse whenever possible. 216-844-1000, www.uhhs.com.

WOMEN & INFANTS HOSPITAL PROVIDENCE, R.I.

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