On the day she gave birth to a wiggling 6-pound, 5-ounce girl two weeks ago, Monica Ferlin said goodbye to Fairfax Hospital. With newborn Amanda Sue tucked in her arms, Ferlin returned to her Woodbridge home just 11 hours after her daughter was born.

"I have to watch my soaps; can't miss them," laughed the 21-year-old mother, who also climbed two flights of stairs, changed bed linens and washed a load of laundry before retiring to bed.

Like a growing number of mothers across the country, Ferlin chose not to stick around the hospital for the more traditional three-day maternity stay, preferring to recuperate with her 21-year-old husband and 3-year-old daughter in the comfort of their Prince William County town house.

Increasingly, hospitals are offering early discharge programs to mothers, in some cases yielding to pressures from cost-conscious insurance companies, hospital administrators and sometimes to mothers themselves, according to health experts.

But in Northern Virginia, where such special programs allow mothers to leave as early as six hours after delivery, the approach has yet to gain widespread acceptance, hospital administrators say.

"It's not the American way in Northern Virginia right now," said Connie Henry, a head nurse in the maternity ward at Arlington Hospital, where one or two mothers a month enroll in a program that allows release within 24 hours of delivery. "It has not been very well received."

At Fairfax Hospital, which runs the nation's eighth-busiest obstetrical service with about 25 deliveries a day, hospital officials said only 50 mothers have taken advantage of a short-stay program that began in January.

While the program is new at Fairfax Hospital, others have been in place in Northern Virginia hospitals for several years. Most short-stay programs offer a follow-up visit from a nurse to the mother's home. The programs can reduce the cost of maternity care by about one-third in normal deliveries, hospital officials said.

For mothers such as Ferlin, a homemaker, the quick trip in and out of a hospital bed came from a desire to be with family.

Betsy Yarrison, who lives in a rambling, two-story brick house in Springfield, said she climbed into her own bed with her new daughter Emily about 22 hours after delivery at Fairfax Hospital. She said her two other children scrambled in, too, and she read them "Winnie the Pooh."

Yarrison, 39, who teaches scientific and business writing at the University of Baltimore, said she was having guilt pangs in the hospital, thinking about her husband, a Middle Eastern affairs specialist for the Air Force, and her family at home.

"I was sitting in the hospital with nothing to do while my husband and mother were running around after the other two children," she said.

As it turned out, Yarrison said, a 20-month-old she had left at home never realized she was gone.

Mary Jane Atwood, a 32-year-old homemaker who lives in Vienna, was out of the hospital three days after her fifth cesarean section recently. She figures she cut her hospital stay by two days.

"I don't like hospitals. I have four other kids and I wanted to be at home," Atwood said.

She said a nurse from the home health care service at Fairfax Hospital dropped by her white clapboard farmhouse the next day to remove her sutures and to check on her health and that of her first son, Adam.

"It's nice to be at home," Atwood said, adding that she might have considered a longer hospital stay if she and her husband, a TRW engineer, had not had the help of her parents, who cared for their other children so she could rest at home.

For now, the decisions of mothers like Ferlin, Yarrison and Atwood to go home early are the exceptions rather than the rule among mothers at Fairfax Hospital.

In the past, the volume of deliveries at Fairfax Hospital had caused the hospital on occasion to run out of labor rooms and force some mothers to spend part of their labor in makeshift rooms in hallways.

Initially, hospital spokesman Lon Walls said, the short-stay program was seen partly as a way to ease crowding that since has been corrected with hospital expansion. But Walls said the number of mothers in the program are "not making a major dent." He hopes that will change as more mothers learn of it.

At Alexandria Hospital, which delivers an average of 10 babies a day, only 1 percent of new mothers have used a maternity program allowing them to leave after six hours, while 15 percent of the mothers have chosen to leave the day after delivery, said Kathy Dunn, a head nurse in the labor and delivery unit.

"Most moms do not want to have a baby and then go home," Dunn said. "Labor is not the easiest thing in the world. It takes a lot of energy. Most moms prefer to stay in the hospital with the security of knowing there are people there to care for them."

The limited participation in short-stay programs might stem from a more conservative attitude about medical care among Virginians than people elsewhere, particularly on the West Coast, said Ann Cianci, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente, a large health maintenance organization in the Washington area.

Although Kaiser has developed early-discharge programs to serve its subscribers in three hospitals in the Washington area -- Fairfax and Shady Grove Adventist and Holy Cross hospitals, both in Maryland -- the "vast majority" in the Washington area prefer the more traditional maternity stay, Cianci said.

Some hospital administrators say mothers in Virginia will continue longer maternity stays as long as their insurance policies allow it. They also said some insurance companies will not cover nurses' follow-up home visits for patients in the short-stay program.

Still, the head nurse at Alexandria Hospital thinks that may change. "Insurance companies are putting a lot of pressure on hospitals and physicians to discharge patients early," she said. "It's the new wave."

A Blue Cross-Blue Shield spokeswoman said the insurance company would pay for two or three days of maternity stay but "would start looking into it" if mothers with normal deliveries were hospitalized longer.

"We certainly applaud {shorter stays} and encourage that, but we are not forcing them to get out," Barbara Exstrum said.

But phone calls to the Springfield office of the Northern Virginia Gynecologists Inc. seem to suggest a different message from insurance companies, according to office manager Kathy Shartzer.

"They're driving us crazy," she said. "They call us and want to know if the patients have been discharged after two days. They are trying to get them out of there."