Preventing prematurity> Start your pregnancy in tip-top shape, Lockwood advises. Identify and treat any infections, and try to be close to your ideal weight. Pinpoint the stressors in your life and try to deal with them. Eat well: Women who ate fewer than five meals and snacks daily were more likely to deliver prematurely than those who ate more frequently, according to research findings at the University of North Carolina. And stay active. “Women who exercise throughout pregnancy improve the likelihood of having a full-term baby,” says Mattison.
If your doctor finds that you are in premature labor (see “Signs of Early Labor,” below), she may send you home or to the hospital; either way, you may be put on bed rest and given labor-slowing medications. Such interventions aren’t always successful, but they paid off for Karen Dressler. After nine weeks of bed rest, she gave birth to a 7-pound, 10-ounce girl. Still technically premature at 36 weeks, baby Lauren needed no special care. “She was a take-home baby,” says Dressler, “which is just what we wanted.”