When Myra Tanamor first suspected she was pregnant, she quietly looked up the signs of pregnancy on the Internet before telling her husband, Niall Brennan, that it was time to buy a pregnancy test.
Later, as they prepared for the baby's birth, Brennan researched two hospitals online and almost immediately wrote off the one whose site he couldn't find.
"If you're providing services to people, it's important to have that information easily available," he said.
From conception and pregnancy to birth and toddlerhood, new technologies and the Internet are transforming early life. The Web combines Dr. Spock with a family support group and throws in an "infants and layette" department as well.
To Rebecca Kurtz, a friend of Tanamor's whose baby is due soon after hers, the Web means window-shopping at www.gap.com, which sells maternity clothes that aren't available in Gap stores.
"Once I'm less mobile, I might want to do more shopping online," Kurtz said.
A growing number of hospitals, including Lawrence Memorial Hospital (www.lmh.org), post online pictures of newborns.
Two doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston took that idea one step further. They helped develop Internet-based Baby CareLink to assist parents whose premature babies are in neonatal intensive care. With this program, parents use computers and videoconferencing equipment to see their baby and talk with doctors and nurses.
Hospital officials said "telemedicine" has two benefits: Parents are more satisfied with the institution's care of their child, and infants go home an average of two days sooner, saving about $4,000 per baby. By watching their baby on video and learning from nurses, parents are more confident of their ability to care for their infants.
For a smaller group of prospective parents, the Internet offers another kind of shopping: Couples looking to adopt can surf the Internet for children available worldwide.
Prospective parents seeking sperm or eggs also have found new options in developing technology. As recently as five years ago, they were limited to one-line descriptions of donors in catalogs.
Now, there are about 80 sperm banks in the United States, and at least 10 have Web sites listing detailed profiles of the donors. There are fewer egg donor sites.
Reacting to concerns about safety, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed new rules to regulate sperm banks. Most banks follow guidelines set by industry associations as well as their own procedures for storage and testing of sperm.