No birth is as widely anticipated or reported as the first baby of the new year.
"The race to have the first baby is something all hospitals share enthusiasm for, especially in large cities like Chicago, and, unfortunately, not all hospitals play fair," said Karen Deighan, MD, OB/GYN, director of OB/GYN at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System. Loyola has welcomed the first baby of the new year for Chicago twice in the past three years.
"Hospital staff feel a great sense of pride at the recognition of birthing the first baby, and many parents like the special distinction it gives them, and their child," she said.
One second can mean the difference of a tax deduction ($850 or more) immediately or one year later.
"I have never had a parent ask me to schedule or induce a pregnancy to meet a tax deadline," said Dr. Deighan. "But in this tight economy, I am sure there are many who would opt for the tax deduction over the title of Parent of the New Year Baby."
Dr. Deighan says that Chicago births in 2009 were reportedly down by 16 percent and she sees that trend reflected at Gottlieb and at Loyola.
"There are still plenty of women with due dates this season, but the field is definitely narrowing," she said.
"Everyone should want a healthy baby and mother, first and foremost," she said, adding "You may lose the race for the first baby of the new year, but you are in good shape to win the record for lifetime achievement."
Here is a playbook from Dr. Deighan on understanding the game of "first baby of the new year."
Time is of the Essence
The circulating nurse makes the official call on the time of delivery. "There's no uniform clock or official system of timekeeping that I know of. We don't all synchronize our clocks with each other on a certain day or hour," Dr. Deighan says. "Parents of January first babies are more likely to report their child's birth in relation to midnight, such as 'one hour after midnight,' or '90 seconds after midnight' to get proximity to the new year."
Defining What Constitutes "Born"
Unlike a basketball in a hoop or a football carried across the goal line, the definition of when a baby is officially born may confuse the layman. "The time of birth is always called when the baby is completely outside of the mother," Dr. Deighan said. "It is not when the cord is cut, or when the head crowns."
"Most hospitals do not allow births to be filmed for legal reasons as well as for safety reasons, and certainly a film is not required to be submitted for proof as there is no overarching regulation group. It is kind of the honor system," said Dr. Deighan, who readily volunteers that there will always be grumbling dissent from competing hospitals.
Smile for the Camera
"The media always wants to interview the mother and photograph the baby but that requires signed consent from both parents for themselves and again as guardians for the baby," said Dr. Deighan. "Often, what is publicized as the first baby of the New Year, is actually the first baby whose parents gave the hospital permission for publicity."
Members of the media routinely call the hospital media spokespeople around midnight in a competition to be the first outlet to announce the baby. "Hospital media members are in constant contact with nurses in their birth unit, and they are the ones to alert the media," said Dr. Deighan.
The Spoils of Victory
"The first baby born at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital is presented with a gift basket of clothing and toys, regardless of the time of delivery," said Dr. Deighan, acknowledging that occasionally local businesses may also contribute a gift.
"Getting a lifetime of diapers, or a college scholarship is pretty rare; just having the media publicity is usually the reward." Physicians, medical staff and hospital do not receive any monetary benefit, but also enjoy the publicity.
"Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood had the first baby of Chicago in 2011 and in 2009, and everyone at the hospital liked seeing our name in the papers and on camera for such a happy occasion," she said.
Ways to Cheat
"If a patient is actively in labor, there may be encouragement of her to hold off on that final last push during the final clock countdown to the new year," said Dr. Deighan.
"If a mother is overdue, inducement of labor could be orchestrated with the new year," she also added.
"A physician could also perform a strategically scheduled cesarean section," said Dr. Deighan, who vehemently denies participating in such behavior. Like many hospitals, Loyola and Gottlieb will not unnecessarily perform a C-section before a healthy baby is 39 weeks. "We really only perform C-sections when there is a specific medical reason to safeguard the health of mother and child," she said.
"There may be one baby that is proclaimed as the official first baby born in Chicago, but each suburb and each hospital also usually celebrates and publicizes its own first baby," said Dr. Deighan. "I delivered the first baby of 2010 at Gottlieb, and she arrived about 36 hours after the New Year, but she still got her picture and name in the area papers."
Training Now To Have A New Year's Baby
"The average pregnancy is 40 weeks, so you will want to become pregnant in April to be a contender," said Dr. Deighan. "There are many October births, perhaps created by some ardent New Year celebration, but at no other time of year or holiday does the world so closely herald a newborn."
Loyola University Health System