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Preterm children already have well-known risks for disabilities, including cerebral palsy, lung problems, mental retardation, learning and behavioral problems, and vision and hearing loss. Studies also suggest a connection to autism.

Adding impaired fertility or infertility to this list seems so cruel, especially when these “miracle” children already have fought and won a battle to live.

But forewarned is forearmed, and Dr. Youngkin’s advice to women who want to avoid preterm birth is pretty straightforward.

“Don’t smoke,” he says. “Protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases. Get good medical care and have babies early in life. Don’t put it off.”

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at