SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ New mothers in Moscow and San Francisco hospitals spoke by videophone Tuesday as U.S. and Soviet doctors tested a technology they say can lead to important exchanges on birthing methods and prenatal and infant care.

The 45-minute satellite connection, which produced clear ''live, video snapshots'' on a screen attached to an ordinary telephone for only $2 a minute, may be the forerunner of regular discussions between Soviet and American doctors who want to compare notes.

''This is just the first encounter but I think it has a lot of potential in terms of exchanging good will and communication between the two countries,'' said Dr. Ziyad Hannon, an obstetrician and gynecologist at St. Mary's Hospital San Francisco.

Hannon spoke with Dr. Yuri Zulivisky, his counterpart at Moscow Hospital 15, a large maternity facility, and said he found the brief talk fascinating.

''I learned just from listening today that the practice of obstetrics is completely different from the way we do things here,'' Hannon said. ''Just by looking at their hospital, it looks like there's much more regionalization. One hospital serves a large area, whereas here it tends to be more decentralized and smaller units serving populations.

''Another impressive point is that the fathers are not involved in the labor-delivery process,'' Hannon said. ''In fact, they're not admitted to the maternity ward for up to two weeks after the baby is born. Here, we have more participation of all the family members.''

Although doctors in both countries regularly publish articles about their work in professional journals, Hannon said speaking by phone with video images ''gives it a lot of realism and makes it interactive, which adds a dimension of warmth that you can't appreciate by telephone alone or by writing.''

Soviet doctors have proposed a U.S.-Soviet study of health histories of children from both countries born using different techniques, according to Joel Schatz, president of San Francisco-Mosco w Teleport, a non- profit firm pioneering videophone links with the Soviets.

''They're talking about diet, prenatal care, delivery practices and child- bearing,'' Schatz said. ''They would like to follow what they call the 'destiny of the children.' Now that we know the technology works, we'll sit down and create a systematic series of exchanges.''

At the maternity ward of St. Mary's Hospital, Michael Fraley and Gail Larson-Fraley rocked their 3-week-old daughter, Colleen, while talking by phone with a Soviet journalist in Moscow who translated for a mother who had given birth only a few hours earlier. An American mother in labor also spoke on the phone.

A small camera attached to the phone produced good still images on both sides of the connection. Within a year, as digital video becomes more affordable for satellite transmission, moving images will be sent at a reasonable cost, Schatz said.

Although the conversations were awkward, with pauses and interference when video images were being reproduced on paper, Schatz said conferences can be conducted more easily using separate phones for video and voice transmission.

Schatz's firm is also working with doctors exchanging information about the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Another group is using videophones in a program for recovering alcoholics, and several universities are interested in the technology for classroom use.

''I'm not so interested in what people talk about,'' Schatz said. ''I'm interested that they talk to each other.''