As the Year 1999 rolled into 2000, Millennial Babies arrived as surely and swiftly as midnight kisses--at area hospitals that normally deliver only a few babies a day or at most one an hour, at hospitals that had been quiet all evening.

Providence Hospital, Inova Fairfax Hospital, Columbia Reston Hospital Center and Howard University Hospital all claimed babies born at 12:01 a.m. today.

Minutes later, a spokesman from Providence Hospital called back to say that the first child of Carlos and Nelly Ascenscio of Alexandria, a girl named Diana (looks like dad) was born sooner. "Actually, the doctor said she was born at 12 o'clock and 30 seconds, officially," spokesman Paul Smith said. Typically, he said, doctors round up to the nearest minute, but realized this year they should be more specific.

"It's big luck," said Carlos Ascenscio. "It just came at that time."

The couple at Inova, who did not want to give their full names, didn't plan for a Year 2000 baby, but they wanted one. They got it--and a Year 1999 baby, too. After six hours in labor, Faria, a girl, was born at 11:52 p.m. yesterday; her twin brother, Fayad, arrived at 12:01. Kathy Wolf, the obstetrician, said of the mother, "She had told me that if she had a chance, she would like to deliver the first baby. It worked out very well for her." A Millennial Baby and a tax deduction.

All the First Babies were born naturally. And two came unexpectedly.

Jamy Cole-Judd, of Ashburn, was due Jan. 30, so she never imagined she'd wind up with Columbia Reston's New Year's Baby. Still, she appreciated the cheering section of eight nurses--"that really helped"--and the dozen long-stem roses and the "I'm the First Millennium Baby" T-shirt on Kevin William (brown fuzz hair, long fingernails).

At Howard, Sanani Fabian (mom's nose, dad's lips) wasn't due for two more weeks. Michael Fabian, of Mount Ranier, was in New York to spend the holiday with relatives when his girlfriend, Tashika Grady, called to say she was in labor. The Greyhound bus driver dropped him in front of the hospital, and he walked into the millennial hoopla. The scene, he said, was "kind of weird, kind of exciting, kind of nervous."

The four new mothers were not among those angling for a Y2Kid, the kind who bought a $49.95 millennium conception kit--ovulation prediction guide, massage oil--from and who diligently got jiggy on April 9, pinpointed as the best date to spark a New Year's baby.

But there were plenty of those around. So doctors and hospitals had sworn before New Year's Eve that they would take no steps to help any couple achieve millennial glory. Despite women's requests--and there were plenty--hospitals didn't schedule non-emergency C-sections or induced labor near midnight.

There is a caveat in naming a Millennium Baby: Who's to say there isn't a midwife out there, surrounded by candles in a bedroom, delivering a baby at 12:00.01 and calling nobody? With the growing popularity of at-home births and private birthing centers, it's less clear each year that the baby in the papers is actually the first.

The ones in the candlelit bedroom, however, will get no Mega-Millennial Prize Package. As many hospitals do yearly, each is gifting its own First Baby. Some of the prizes are the kind you see every New Year's, like baby blankets, formula, champagne flutes, savings bonds, onesies from babyGap. But this being 2000, some places have upped the stakes.

At the three Inova hospitals in Virginia, the first parents won a weekend at a Sheraton. At Washington Hospital Center, the baby received a $1,000 annuity, redeemable in 60 years for nearly $100,000. And the firstborn at Washington Adventist in Takoma Park can go to Columbia Union College--free.