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Giving Your Preemie the Best Start

If your baby was premature, you know he's at risk for developmental delays and may have a hard time keeping up. The good news: With the right care, preemies can catch up just fine to kids who were born full-term, finds new research.

One way to give your child a step up: Ask your doctor if he qualifies for Early Intervention. (These free state-run programs are offered to kids ages 0 to 3.) In one study from Harvard University, preemies who got extra help throughout their first three years had similar test scores at age 18 as those born full-term.

If your baby doesn't qualify  -- usually only the smallest and poorest preemies do  -- don't worry; a formal program isn't required to give him what he needs, says Marie McCormick, M.D., the lead author of the study and a professor at Harvard. You can make just as big a difference at home by providing lots of stimulating activities every day (like playtime and reading) and letting him learn through trial and error. So if he can't seem to get that pacifier into his mouth, let him keep trying. "It's easy to think you should handle your preemie with kid gloves, but you'll help him reach his milestones on time by giving him as many experiences as a full-term infant," says Dr. McCormick.

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