The Coalition of Oklahoma Breastfeeding Advocates (COBA) was founded as a grassroots organization in 2000. COBA members’ dedicated advocacy for pro-breastfeeding legislation resulted in three major victories between 2004 and 2006. During that time, Oklahoma passed laws protecting the right to breastfeed in public, giving jury duty exemption for breastfeeding, and supporting working breastfeeding mothers by clarifying the right to use break time at work for milk expression and encouraging the provision of a private location, other than a toilet stall, for expressing milk. COBA would especially like to thank Becky Mannel, Linda Miller, Rosanne Smith, and Crystal Stearns for their hard work promoting these policies.
In 2006 COBA developed its first Strategic Plan. COBA partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) Maternal and Child Health Service (MCH), Women Infants and Children Service (WIC), and Chronic Disease Service, in collaboration with the Oklahoma Turning Point Coalition and the State Chamber, to develop and promote the Oklahoma Breastfeeding Friendly Worksite Initiative, announced in 2008. The initiative created a Breastfeeding Works! brochure for employers, a Breastfeeding Website, and a model Worksite Breastfeeding Policy and breastfeeding room. 220 worksites are currently recognized for policies and amenities that serve breastfeeding employees. COBA assisted OSDH in its choice to include breastfeeding goals in the statewide obesity prevention plan. COBA and OSDH also collaborated to develop a Nursing Moms and Babies Welcome decal for storefronts to help breastfeeding women and their families recognize places that welcome them. COBA partnered with OSDH in 2006-2008 to publish Right to Breastfeed wallet cards in English and Spanish. These cards, updated and still in publication, include helpful information about breastfeeding rights in the United States and Oklahoma. WIC, COBA, and partners have also collaborated to create public service announcements that support breastfeeding. We give special thanks to Nancy Bacon and Rosanne Smith for their commitment to these successful programs.
Between 2006 and 2014 COBA and its partners continued to make major progress: the publication of our first website; the creation of model breastfeeding policies for hospitals and workplaces; the Becoming Baby-Friendly in Oklahoma Project; the development of breastfeeding education opportunities for hospital staff; the establishment of a statewide toll-free breastfeeding hotline; Ban the Bags Campaign participation by a majority of Oklahoma birthing hospitals; improved insurance coverage for breast pumps and lactation consults; development of the Oklahoma Mothers’ Milk Bank; and a budding partnership with the US Breastfeeding Committee. In 2014 COBA achieved 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and gratefully received a major gift from the FareTheeWell Foundation. The COBA Baby Café program held its first staff training in October 2014. We want to thank many active COBA members for their presence at USBC Coalitions Conferences, their persistent grant writing, and their diligence in identifying and addressing gaps in breastfeeding support.
In 2015, COBA received grants to improve access to breastfeeding education and support for minority mothers with the objective of reducing disparities in breastfeeding rates and family health. This empowered COBA to establish COBA Baby Cafés at 4 locations in Oklahoma City. We thank Danielle Lugrand for her incredible passion, drive, and pioneering spirit in launching the COBA Baby Café program!
The fulfillment of the 2006 Strategic Plan, and COBA’s new tax-exempt status and sponsored Baby Café program, signaled the need for a new strategic plan, developed in March and April 2015. This plan refined our Mission, framed our Values, and laid out concrete objectives with appropriate metrics to pursue these priorities:
- Support the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative
- Increase COBA’s visibility
- Strengthen COBA’s structure and capacity
- Improve breastfeeding support for working families
- Reduce disparities
The COBA Baby Café continued until 2019 with several location changes and expansion to Lawton, Oklahoma. In 2019 with decreased funding sources and decreasing attendance, the COBA sponsored Baby Café was discontinued. In July of 2019, the COBA Board met and developed a new strategic plan for moving forward with our vision to make sure that every baby in Oklahoma has access to human milk. The goals for the 2019 Strategic Plan include:
- Remove breastfeeding barriers
- Be known
- Build and form internal organizational structure
- Hire and Executive Director
By the end of 2019 we rolled out a new COBA logo and in early 2020 hired our first Executive Director, Heidi Russell. In addition we increased our social media presence by sending out a monthly e-newsletter and increasing our posts on our Facebook site. In 2021 with generous funding from our partners, particularly the Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma, we initiated the IBCLC Exam Fee and Education Scholarship program with the goal of increasing the number of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) with a focus on individuals of color or who work in a rural area or with an underserved population. During 2022 COBA worked with legislators and our partners to help pass legislation (SB121) in support of lactating public school employees and educators, and supported efforts to provide banked human milk for those infants in need after discharge from the hospital. Recognizing the need to update our strategic plan, the board met in the Spring of 2022 and formulated our current plan. The goals for the 2022 plan are:
Goal 1: Governance: COBA will have a board that reflects the diversity of Oklahoma families.
Goal 2: Maternal Health Outcomes and COBA Achievements: COBA will evaluate its achievements while actively remaining current and parallel with statewide and national lactation initiatives.
Goal 3: Awareness, Advocacy, and Community: COBA will focus on building alliances with partners that share in our mission.
Make history with us by contributing your time, wisdom, and resources toward fulfilling this plan in your community and statewide!