The University of Auckland is developing a blood test for pregnant women which could warn them whether their baby could be born prematurely.
There are several complications which can arise from premature birth, but the researchers believe that being forewarned of the possibility of premature birth could help mothers plan to delay childbirth accordingly.
Obstetrician and researcher Professor Lesley McCowan says such a test would save lives.
"Currently, babies who are born at less than 24 weeks very often don't survive - so if we could reliably identify these babies it could be enormous," she said.
"If this research is successful it could save lives of babies so it's exciting."
The study has received positive early results, but Professor McGowan cautioned that it is only at its first stage.
A further two years of research are now underway using a larger sample and the researchers are trying to find funding to complete it.
About eight to nine per cent of New Zealand babies are born prematurely each year - that's more than 5000 babies.
Of those, half are spontaneous births, generally in women who do't have a prior history.
Mother who have been through a premature birth, like Tehani Buchanan, say any warning would be advantageous.
"Would've liked to had some time to mentally prepare - even financially - prepare for our girl to come early ... so it's a good thing," she said.
Her daughter Amalijah was born prematurely at just 33 weeks - not an easy start for either baby or Mum.
"Pretty shocking - we found out on the day that she was getting delivered," Ms Buchanan said.