From a tiny premature baby who spent 18 weeks in neonatal units, to a bouncy 4-year-old outgrowing bikes at an alarming rate.

Max Haselden was born at 25 weeks weighing 870 grams to mum Nerissa. He spent nine weeks in Auckland's special care baby unit and nine weeks in the Whangarei equivalent.

Yesterday, Onerahi mum Nerissa was at the Whangarei unit helping host a breakfast celebrating its work and the families who use its services. November 17 marks World Prematurity Day.

Nerissa went into labour on Christmas Day in 2011.

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"I got a slight bleed and rang my midwife and she said 'if you're worried, come up to the hospital'. They did a check and I was 4cm dilated, it was all on," Nerissa said.

"At the time it was kind of surreal. I thought 'hang on I'm only 23 weeks'. I could feel him moving and thought 'that isn't right, he's due in April, not December'."

Nerissa was helicoptered to Auckland, where bed rest and a cervical stitch held off Max's birth for another 10 days.

"I had my first cuddle when he was 2 weeks old ... As he got stronger, the cuddles got longer and longer."

Nerissa said the hardest part of moving from Auckland back to Whangarei was leaving the hospital at the end of the day and Max in the unit. In Auckland she had stayed onsite.

"I was here all day every day ... I called them I don't know how many times overnight. Whenever I woke up I would call them, they were so great about it."

She acknowledged her family was one of the lucky ones. Max had grown up healthy and was excited to start Onerahi Primary when he turned 5.

Husband Ben said the family was lucky with access to support and facilities.

Neil O'Styke from Neonatal Trust New Zealand said more than 5000 Kiwi babies go through a neonatal unit every year, with 350 cared for at Whangarei's special care baby unit.

Mayor Sheryl Mai was at the morning tea and wanted to "sing the praises of the wonderful people" of the trust and SCBU staff.

"Many of us have experienced this care firsthand or know people who have, and will be as grateful as I am to have the SCBU facility available to us and staffed by experts in the neonatal medicine field."