One of the most awesome life-changing events is giving life. Having a baby is exciting, humbling and, sometimes, confusing.

Here, in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, the process is made simpler, the choices, clearer, thanks to the caliber of hospitals that specialize in birth.

Good Samaritan Hospital, Bethesda North and The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, and St. Elizabeth Healthcare centers in Edgewood and Florence, Kentucky, provide expertise, state-of-the art technology and personalized care for parents-to-be and their infants.

"It's individualized to whatever that mother needs," says Angie Scroggins, assistant nurse manager of the Family Birth Place at St. Elizabeth Healthcare Edgewood.

START NOW

Doctors advise parents to start planning when a baby is conceived of "” not even yet conceived.

Reaching out early helps in making decisions that will lead to the finest care for your baby. You can start by gleaning information from websites. But don't stop there.

Physicians here and nationally advise a meeting with an obstetrician/gynecologist as soon as possible to find out what health considerations are in store for mom and baby.

"Pre-conceptual counseling gives couples the opportunity to investigate, discover and explore things before the fact rather than afterward," says Dr. Elbert Nelson, medical director of Obstetrics and Gynecology at The Christ Hospital.

Expect physicians to ask what medications you are on, what immunizations and vaccinations you've had and your family health history. The information, now often kept on electronic records within reach of every caregiver involved, helps ensure the best delivery possible.

Getting a jump on potential complications has always been important. Now, as medical expertise continues to expand, pregnancies can be aided sometimes as early as the embryo stage, Nelson says. Keep in mind, too, that many services, such as genetic counseling, once offered only to women with high-risk pregnancies, are now available to everyone, he says.

SPECIALIZED SERVICES

The hospitals in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky offer services for an array of possible prenatal problems, complications with delivery and post-birth medical issues.

University Hospital last year completed its Center for Women's Health, which has OB-GYN care, including specialized services for high-risk mothers, a maternal fetal medication and diagnostic center and more. The center encourages potential moms to take advantage of its Early Entry Program.

"If they think they might be pregnant, if they missed a period, give us a call," says Ruby Crawford Hemphill, assistant chief nursing officer for the hospital.

In August 2010, Good Samaritan, a TriHealth hospital, earned the No. 1 ranking in Ohio for delivering babies for the fourth year in a row, according to the Ohio Department of Health's Vital Statistics division. The total number of live births was 6,878.

Good Samaritan offers a nationally recognized Level III neonatal intensive care unit, (NICU) and is world-ranked for its expertise in caring for pre-term and critically ill babies. It is staffed by specialists from Children's Hospital Medical Center. Good Samaritan services include the Seton Center for high-risk pregnancies.

TriHealth's Bethesda North, the leading maternity-services provider in Cincinnati's northern corridor, is known for its Harold & Margret Thomas Special Care Nursery. The Level II facility provides comprehensive care to all but the most critically ill babies.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare has Maternal Fetal Centers that provide diagnostic care through a team of Maternal Fetal Medicine physicians, genetic counselors and registered nurses. The Special Care Nursery at St. Elizabeth is a Level II unit licensed by the state of Kentucky and staffed with specially trained nurses. At St. Elizabeth Edgewood, neonatologists are available to newborns around-the-clock.

The Christ Hospital provides The Birthing Center, along with numerous specialized services including a Special Care Nursery. The Level II facility, according to Nelson, "takes care of everything but fetal surgery and ventilation," which is provided by Children's Hospital.

In March 2010, The Christ Hospital was designated a Magnet Hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center for high-quality nursing care and innovation in professional nursing practice. Nelson says the excellence is evident within The Birthing Center.

Offerings continue to expand at every hospital. One example: New to The Christ Hospital is a lactation program designed to increase and improve breastfeeding. Counseling is available in- or outpatient, and moms can now rent or purchase breastfeeding supplies at Expressions & More Breastfeeding Supply Store, located in the hospital.

Parents-to-be are encouraged to get acquainted with delivery options and after-care assistance to make the best choices.

The Christ Hospital, St. Elizabeth and TriHealth hospitals Good Samaritan and Bethesda North all promise personalized care and plenty of delivery options.

"All of the labor and delivery sites in this area can meet the needs that the moms have chosen," says Scroggins.

Hospitals offer home-like rooms with movies, Internet and family involvement. Women can labor in a tub or shower, use a birthing ball, aromatherapy, music and more.

Thanks to technology, walking is no longer limited to a birthing room. Since last year at St. Elizabeth, Scroggins says, "ambulatory monitoring allows mothers to go just about anywhere in the unit."

Obstetric staffs are cognizant that a woman may change her mind about a treatment , for example, an epidural.

"A mother can decide during her labor to change the process," says Scroggins.

Local birthing centers are proud of their facilities, but they stress that providing an optimal experience for parents and infants goes beyond the equipment and expertise.

The other essential ingredient, they say, is that of helping parents through the birth.

You can hear it in the voices of the nurses and physicians when you speak to them about their experiences in birthing rooms.

Scroggins smiles as she recounts moms she has comforted, dads who first see their baby crown, siblings involved with the baby's first bath.

As a nurse, she says, "You just love what you do."