The CuddleBugs program at Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center has smart advice for expectant moms. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

HAINES CITY – It can be one of the most exciting times a family can ever go through – and, for the expectant mom, a stressful time, too. No two pregnancies are the same, so what the expectant parents experience emotionally and physically can either be the sheer exhilaration of the final deliver day …. or the anxiety of the mom’s health and well being leading up to the big moment.
That’s why, said Linda K. Vendl, those parents could use a little help and guidance – which is where CuddleBugs comes in. And what it is, she added, is an online program that provides some helpful advice and assistance to families who are expecting.
CuddleBugs is a free program designed to offer common sense answers to new and expectant moms from the earliest stages of pregnancy, right through post-delivery – including guidance for newborn care. Moms can sign up for the newsletters simply by logging on to
“It’s a program basically that offers information and free newsletters – e-newsletters– to expectant new moms that talks about their baby’s development in the first few months of life,” said Vendl, the marketing manager at Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, the hospital in Haines City that is offering this online service.
Vendl said this program was launched earlier this year by Health Management Associations, the hospital’s parent company.
“We launched it in February,” Vendl said. “It’s a free program. You come on and sign up online. And we offer free gifts to moms who come and have babies here.”
CuddleBugs is designed to help take the stress out of pregnancy, and instead let expectations moms get the answers they need about why they’re experiencing this, and going through that, and having to cope with a whole bunch of physical reactions they hadn’t anticipated, Vendl said.
“There are a wide variety of issues we cover in the newsletters,” Vendl said, adding that the moms have discovered that as well, and a growing number of them have signed up to get the newsletter.
“We have 63 signed up,” Vendl said. “We’ve had a pretty good response. We promote it through our Heart of Florida OBGYN association. They give out information to expectant moms who come here, and those are obstetric physicians who work here at the hospital.”
“It’s more of a Pick the Topic of the Month that goes out, and kind of just giving some general guidance,” said Lisa Bishop, Heart of Florida’s director of Women and Children’s Services. “This is a quick, down and dirty-type informational program.”
And it’s one that recognizes, she added, that many young moms love to download information on their cell phone and IPad.
“A lot of our patient population is very Internet-savy, and they’d like to get information once a month, and be able to review it when they have some down time, even on their cell phone,” she said. “A lot of times, new moms — especially those who are expecting — they want every piece of information they can get their hands on, and the majority of the CuddleBugs information is very self-explanatory.”
With Christmas now just days away, CuddleBugs is offering a special message in a new e-release titled “Choosing the Right Toy for Baby.”

Gifts for baby? CuddleBugs has some advice on the safest gifts to give. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

“It’s that time of year again, and when it comes to buying toys, safety should be your highest priority,” CuddleBugs notes.
In recognition of December being Safe Toys and Gifts month, the CuddleBugs program has compiled five important safety guidelines to help families select the right holiday toys for the little ones.
“ Step One,” the release notes, is to “determine whether or not a toy is age-appropriate. This guideline can go a long way in keeping children safe. Thanks to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, most toys are clearly labeled for age appropriateness. Don’t be tempted to buy a toy for a child younger than the labeling recommends, as the designation is determined by safety factors – not the intelligence or maturity of the child.”
For example, toys that can easily be broken into tiny pieces can pose a choking hazard.
Step two is to consider the source of the product before purchasing it.
“Stuffed animals and toys from fairs, carnivals and vending machines are not required to meet safety standards,” Cuddlebugs notes. “Inspect these items to make sure there aren’t any sharp edges or loose pieces before giving them to a small child or baby. Additionally, while hand-me-down toys have great sentimental value, they may not meet safety standards, so steer clear of those, as well.”
The third piece of advice is to assess the “bells and whistles.”
“While toys that make sounds are intriguing to young children, it is important to make sure the toy you are purchasing is not too loud for your baby,” CuddleBugs advises. “If held too close to your child’s ear, hearing damage could occur.”
A fourth key issue to consider is that size matters, especially for babies.
“An easy test to determine if a toy is size-appropriate is to use a toilet paper roll as your guide,” the program advises. “If the toy fits in the hole of the roll, then the toy could be a choking hazard. Toddlers and babies are the most at-risk for choking, given their habit of putting objects in their mouths.”
The final bit of advice is to be careful of toys that require batteries.
“If a battery is punctured, swallowed, or aged, it can leak harmful materials,” CuddleBugs notes. “Therefore, look for toys that have batteries safely secured in a locked battery compartment. Most toys these days come with a screw top lid and, therefore, reduce risk of exposure.”
Taking these simple steps, the program says, will make the entire family safer and happier this holiday season.
“Overall, the best way to ensure your child remains safe while playing with a toy is supervision,” CuddleBugs advises. “However, buying quality, age-appropriate toys will help ensure that a safe and happy time is had by all.”
Bishop said this is a good example of what CuddleBugs does in its newsletters.
“It is making good choices, helping parents make that,” she said. “It’s something that is quick and easy to apply to their daily lives.”

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