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The annual Breastfeeding Challenge aims to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding. (CBC)

About 40 mothers gathered with their babies at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax on Saturday to participate in Breastfeeding Challenge 2009.

The annual event, held in cities around the world, aims to raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.

"Breast milk has a lot of antibodies in it, so it's very important, particularly during emergencies, or in the case of flus, that the woman continue to breastfeed so she can pass those antibodies on to her baby," said Nancy Worth, a public health nurse with Halifax's Capital Health authority.

"Research tells us that babies who are breastfed don't get the regular flu as often as babies who are not breastfed. And if they happen to get the flu, they are not as sick as babies who are fed by a different method."

Breastfeeding all at once

Cities worldwide compete to have the most women breastfeeding together at one time. Montreal won last year's global challenge with more than 550 nursing mothers, but health officials cancelled this year's event there because of concerns about the swine flu.

They said babies under six months of age are particularly vulnerable to the illness, and mothers should not risk gathering in large crowds.

Worth said there is no current threat of a mass outbreak of swine flu in Nova Scotia, and it's more important to highlight the benefits of breastfeeding.

Nova Scotia lags behind other provinces when it comes to breastfeeding rates in Canada, but the numbers are improving, she said.

For Nicole Fraser, who participated in the event with her five-month-old son, it was an opportunity to get the natural process out into the open.

"I'm here because I think it's important that people do see women breastfeeding," she said.

"It's nice, as a mother, to see other women breastfeeding as well because in public a lot of the time you're the only one."

The Quintessence Foundation started the Breastfeeding Challenge in 2001.