Q: I am 24 weeks' pregnant and was confined to bed six weeks ago due to premature labor.

I have a 4-year-old son at home with me.

Instead of finding this situation easier as we go along, I am finding it increasingly stressful. Our budget is stretched and my husband is exhausted at being dad, mom, husband, housekeeper and care giver to me.

My son is in preschool two mornings a week but otherwise we are together. I originally had thought I would use this time for crafts, stories and imaginative play. Instead I find myself burned out knowing any messes we create are unlikely to get cleaned up until the weekend when my husband can get to it. I feel guilty when I turn on the TV for him just because I want to be alone.

Friends have been of some help, taking my son over to play or bringing lunch, but I am hesitant to keep relying on them. Family is not available to help as they seem to have the attitude that I had one preemie, I should have known better.

Are there resources out there? I need encouragement in what seems an overwhelming situation.

A: This is the most important job you've ever had, and the most difficult, but you're not as alone as you think.

You'll do better if you only concentrate on getting through the next week or two, however, and not the whole stretch.

You also must keep yourself busy, your time structured -- and your pride and guilt in check.

Many people offer the wrong sort of help or they don't seem genuine because they're vague about the time. Be specific about your needs, and ask the more willing ones to take on the same jobs every week. Three good friends could each have your son over one morning a week or cook supper for your family, while more casual friends could do your regular errands. It's not a big deal if you've already tagged the dry cleaning or placed your order with the drugstore or the branch librarian.

This doesn't impose on your friends as much as you might think. People like to have the chance to pass on their good fortune. If you still feel guilty, offer to do some light mending for them or some telephoning jobs, or promise them some service in kind when you've recuperated.

Some help must be bought, if possible. You need someone to tidy the house a few hours a week, and your son needs to play outdoors -- a perfect job for a 12-year-old neighbor.

You can help in subtle ways, too. Keep a box of the things you usually need beside your bed, and each night have your husband and son add any extras for the next day.

Keep a calendar of family engagements, taking care to space them evenly. A daily list, as soon as you've washed up, made up and put on a fresh nightgown, also will help you feel more in control. Set aside a special time for writing letters, paying bills, being with your child.

While arts and crafts are messy, your son will love you to read to him and to join him in sing-alongs. And don't feel guilty if he watches TV. Your peace of mind will make him more content.

Confinement groups are popping up all over the country. If there's none in your area, start your own network, with names of bed resters from Parent and Child or the Lamaze groups, and from nurses who work for local obstetricians.

Pregnancy Bedrest by Susan H. Johnston and Deborah A. Kraut is available by sending $10 to P.O. Box 7304, McLean, Va. 22106-7304.

Five months of bed rest may seem like forever, but the end is in sight. With it comes the greatest reward in the world -- a child.

Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.