Category Archives: Blog

The 2017 Infant Feeding Survey is here!

Click here to download the 2017 Infant Feeding Survey Flyer

The Healthy Start Coalition’s 2017 Infant Feeding Survey is underway!

We are looking for moms with babies up to 24 months old who live in Sarasota County to take part in our 2017 Infant Feeding Survey! Help us learn more about infant feeding trends in Sarasota and be entered in a raffle for a $50 Target Gift Card just for participating.

Survey participants must:

  • have a child under 24 months
  • live in Sarasota County

The survey closes on March 11th. To take the survey, participants can scan the QR Code on the flyer, go directly to the survey at:

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. Please share as we’d like to get an accurate picture of Sarasota County’s feeding methods, support, and services. Thank you!!


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Thank you for helping us reach our goal!


Thank you –  And Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Healthy Start! We’ve got some fantastic news to kick off our New Year – We met our Save My Life Donation Match Challenge!

With your support and a generous match from Rachel Levey-Baker, on behalf of the Sullivan Foundation, we raised over $10,000 to support our Save My Life Program!

Thank you to all who donated and helped us spread the word.  (Check out this great editorial supporting the program by Healthy Start Board Member, Dr. Washington Hill!)  We are so grateful for your support!

As we look toward the year ahead, we are thankful that this important program will be able to continue to support moms and babies in our community. Thank you!


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Breastfeeding Support Training Opportunity:

Are you interested in helping moms in our community? We are excited to announce that thanks to generous funding from the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation, we are able to increase the breastfeeding support available in our community by offering two, 2-day Certified Breastfeeding Counselor Trainings in 2017! march-cbc-training-flyer

Click here to download a printable flyer!

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Press Release: “Save My Life” Program Prevents Racial Birth Disparities in Sarasota County, Presents Fundraising “Match” Donation Challenge

“Save My Life” Program Prevents Racial Birth Disparities in Sarasota County, Presents Fundraising “Match” Donation Challenge

For quotes, client testimony, or more information, contact:

Ciera Coleman, Marketing and Grants Coordinator, (941) 373-7070


December 1, 2016 (Sarasota, FL) — African-American babies are some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens. Statistics show a wide gap in racial disparities in birth outcomes such as prematurity, low birth weight, and fetal and infant death for African-American babies. Since 2009, the Healthy Start Coalition’s Save My Life Program has worked to reduce those disparities by providing targeted support and education for African-American moms, dads, and babies.

Now, Healthy Start is seeking the community’s help to continue providing this important program to vulnerable families in our community. Healthy Start supporter, Rachel Levey-Baker, on behalf of the Sullivan Foundation, has put forward a unique challenge to raise funds to continue funding the program through 2017. From now through December 31st, donations made to Healthy Start’s Save My Life Program will be matched by the Foundation, dollar for dollar.

Donations can be made online at:, or by mailing a check to: Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, 1750 17th Street, Building A, Sarasota 34234. Call (941) 373-7070 for more information.

More about the Save My Life Program:

Despite a statewide decrease in deaths among children younger than one year old, the infant mortality rate for African Americans in Sarasota County continues to be twice as high as white infants. Racial disparities continue to exist for other poor birth outcomes as well. African American infants have twice the risk of being born premature, two and a half times the risk of being born at a low birth weight, and three times the risk of dying before birth.

Aimed at reversing this alarming gap, the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County created the “Save My Life” Program in 2008, and began implementation in 2009. Save My Life is an education and support-based Childbirth and Parenting Education program centered in the Newtown area, offers small group and one-on-one classes on the importance of health during childbearing years and during pregnancy, stress reduction, childbirth education, breastfeeding education, parenting education, safe sleep, and in-home support for breastfeeding. Outreach efforts, education, and classes are offered by Beverly Phelps, the first African-American Childbirth Educator in Sarasota County.

“The Save My Life Program is an essential part of the Newtown Community,” says Executive Director, Shon Ewens. “Without the continued support of the community, we wouldn’t be able to ensure that these important services are available to moms and babies that need them.”

Healthy Start has received wide-ranging support for this important program – including a $30,000 Grant from the Bank of America Client Foundation, and an almost $9,000 contract with Sarasota County.  Healthy Start is reaching out to the community to help fund the remaining $10,000 needed to operate the program for a full year – and positively impact the lives of over 100 moms and babies.

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Great American Smokeout – November 17th


Posted November 17, 2016


November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the American Cancer Society sets aside the Thursday before Thanksgiving as the one day for all smokers to make a plan to quit smoking for good. This year, that date is November 17th.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to quit, approximately 40 million American adults still smoke, and tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the country. In Sarasota County, our smoking rates are significantly higher than the Florida average during pregnancy. Babies who are exposed to smoke in the womb are more likely to be born early, too small, and an increased risk of SIDS once born.

Take this time, along with people around the US, to commit to quit. The health benefits begin the moment you stop smoking – especially if you are pregnant. Quitting can be hard, but there is help. If you are pregnant, contact us for free resources and tools to have a healthy pregnancy – including quitting smoking: 941-861-2905.

Other resources for help:

For a fun tip and unique method of distraction during a craving while you are trying to quit, check out the American Cancer Society’s new game: Zombie Smokeout

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Press Release: Healthy Start Coalition Receives $30,000 Grant from the Bank of America Client Foundation to support Save My Life Program

save-my-life-logo-reduxHealthy Start Coalition Receives $30,000 Grant from the Bank of America Client Foundation to support Save My Life Program

Sarasota, FL – The Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, Inc. was recently awarded a $30,000 grant from the Bank of America Client Foundation’s Frederic W. and Margaret D. Kurtz Fund to continue their work reducing Racial Disparities during pregnancy and after birth via the Save My Life Program.

Created in 2006 in response to the alarming racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes, the Save My Life Program was designed to address the significantly higher rates of fetal and infant death experience among the African-American community. The Save My Life Program offers culturally relevant education about a variety of health and pregnancy related topics on a one-to-one or small group basis. The Program provides the tools and information women need to have healthy pregnancies, healthy children, and become healthy themselves.

Free classes are available at various locations throughout the Newtown and North Sarasota areas and cover topics such as childbirth education, breastfeeding, nutrition, safe sleep, preconception and interconception health, smoking cessation, and more. Save My Life also offers free one-on-one breastfeeding support after the birth of the baby, increasing the likelihood that nursing will continue allowing babies to get the right balance of nutrients, immune protection, and bonding to help them get a healthy start.

“The Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County is grateful to the Bank of America Client Foundation for the renewal of this grant,” says Executive Director, Shon Ewens. “The Save My Life Program is an essential part of the Newtown Community. Without this funding, we wouldn’t be able to ensure that these important services are available to moms and babies that need them.”

The Save My Life Program reaches about a hundred pregnant women, new mothers, and women of childbearing age each year. For more information about the program and all of The Healthy Start Coalition’s services, please visit

Please call for more information, quotes, or client stories.


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Press Release: Healthy Start Coalition Receives $25,000 Grant from Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation to Increase Community Breastfeeding Support

smhf_logo_pms287-hHealthy Start Coalition Receives $25,000 Grant from Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation to Increase Community Breastfeeding Support

For Immediate Release: November 9, 2016


Sarasota, FL – The Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, Inc. was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation to enhance breastfeeding support and peer counseling opportunities for new moms across Sarasota County.

The goal of this project is to improve Sarasota’s breastfeeding support network by increasing trained peer-support available throughout the county and providing healthcare professionals who interface with pregnant or postpartum women with up-to-date education about supporting breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding has significant proven health benefits for both mothers and babies, providing optimal nutrition for the infant, as well as preventing SIDS and illnesses such as stomach viruses, respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and lifelong chronic health conditions. Breastfeeding also has numerous benefits for the mother, including a lower risk of postpartum depression, lower postpartum blood loss, and lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

“We are so grateful to the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation for recognizing this need in our community, and supporting our efforts to increase services available for breastfeeding mothers,” states Shon Ewens, Executive Director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County. “This builds upon Healthy Start and Sarasota Memorial Hospitals long-standing partnership, and will truly make an impact on the health and well-being of moms and babies in our community.”

The initiative particularly focuses on reaching underserved and minority populations, building upon efforts started Spring 2016 with funding from the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO) in partnership with the Healthy Start Coalition, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County. This project aims to continue the success of this partnership, and to improve the health of mothers and babies, creating an overall healthier community.

Funding will be used to provide a 2-Day Community Health Worker style Peer Counselor Training utilizing the Loving Support Breastfeeding Peer Counselor curriculum, with a track available for Spanish-speaking Counselors. During the training, individuals learn essential skills for lactation management, methods for making referrals to local resources, and steps for leading breastfeeding support groups in their communities. This training will be scheduled for Spring 2017.

Trained Peer Counselors will be invited to host groups in their communities, with particular focus directed toward minority and underserved populations. Peer Counselors will be paid a stipend for each group hosted, and provide refreshments and incentives for group attendees. Peer Counselors will receive materials to distribute to their group attendees, with connections to local resources beyond the scope of Peer Counseling, such as Sarasota Memorial Hospitals Latch Clinic or Healthy Start’s home visitation program. This funding will also support weekly drop-in breastfeeding support groups across the county, which were initialized with NACCHO Funding. Demand has been growing for these groups, with a particular need for bilingual support.

Additionally, a Certified Breastfeeding Counselor Training will be provided to 40 healthcare providers and family support workers who interface with pregnant and postpartum mothers. Demand for this training is high, with particular interest from providers at the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, which serves a high level of underserved, minority, and at-risk mothers.

For more information, contact: 

  • Jamee Thumm, Educational Services Manager, 941-373-7070 x 307
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October 15 – Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day


On this special day, we remember and honor those affected by miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.

Healthy Start provides free, confidential support services for pregnant women and new moms. If you need support for a loss, or a new pregnancy after a loss, contact Healthy Start at 941-861-2905 to find out how we can help.

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Hurricane Tips for Pregnant Women and Moms

breastfeeding-hurricanePublished September 1, 2016


Hurricane season can be stressful, especially during pregnancy and as a new mom. Being prepared can help you and your family stay safe!

If you have medical conditions or are close to delivery, discuss a plan with your doctor to continue care in case of an emergency. Keep a copy of documents such as medical records, insurance, medications list, and healthcare provider information together to bring to shelters if evacuation is necessary. Make sure everything is in a sealable, plastic bag, and medication is in its original container if possible. Fill any medications before the hurricane makes landfall to ensure you have enough of a supply on hand.

If you are breastfeeding – During a storm babies have an increased need for comfort and the disease-fighting factors provided by breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the recommended feeding method during an emergency because it is safe – refrigeration, clean bottles and water can be a challenge.

While stress can affect milk supply, hormones released during breastfeeding can be calming for both mom and baby.

If you are formula feeding – If breastfeeding is not possible, make sure to have a supply of single-serving ready-to-feed formula on hand. This is the best formula option during an emergency as ready-to-feed formula does not need to be mixed with water. Water can sometimes become unavailable or contaminated during an emergency. Do not use water treated with iodine or chlorine tablets to prepare concentrated or powdered formula.

Ready-to-feed formula must be refrigerated after opening, so if refrigeration is unavailable, any unused portion must be discarded.

If you go to a shelter. Call in advance whenever possible – make sure they are accepting people and verify directions. Find out what you need to bring. You will most likely need baby essentials (portable crib, baby clothes, diapers), sleeping needs (pillow, blanket, sleeping bag), and toiletries.  It can be loud and stressful in shelters, bring items to help soothe your baby (pacifiers, lovey) as well as medical needs such as non-aspirin liquid pain reliever, thermometer, hand sanitizer, and any prescriptions.


Cleanup and Recovery. Once the storm has passed, there will be a period of cleanup and recovery. Make sure to take care of yourself, so that you can take care of your baby. Drink water or if clean water is not available, beverages that do not contain alcohol or caffeine.

If you gave birth recently, follow all the instructions your doctor or midwife gave you. Do not lift heavy objects, especially if you are pregnant or early postpartum.

Take precautions, make a plan, and stay informed and you and your family can weather the storm safely.

For more information on emergency preparedness during pregnancy visit:

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Press Release: City of Sarasota to Proclaim Sarasota Breastfeeding Awareness Month

For Immediate Release

For more information, contact:

July 22, 2016

Jamee Thumm, Education Coordinator,

941-373-7070 ext. 307

City of Sarasota to Proclaim Sarasota Breastfeeding Awareness Month

Healthy Start Coalition, Breastfeeding Advocates of Sarasota County, and other Local Organizations

Celebrate with “Latch On Sarasota” Events, Door Decorating Contest and Blog Hop


(August 2016) – The City of Sarasota is once again proclaiming August as Sarasota Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell will present the Proclamation at the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County’s   “Latch On Sarasota” Event at the Downtown Sarasota Farmer’s Market on Saturday, August 6th at 10am.

Latch On Sarasota” is a public awareness event in which breastfeeding women gather together to break the local record for “Most Simultaneous Breastfeeding Moms.” At precisely 10:30 am on Saturday August 6th, all breastfeeding moms (including pumpers and supplementers) are invited to join in on this fun and exciting event.  Participants are asked to arrive by 9:30 to pre-register.  The event will be located on the South end of the Market, in front of the State Street Parking Garage on State Street.

In addition to the Farmer’s Market event, a second event, “Latch-On Sarasota, South” will be held at the same time at Hold Me Closer, 218 Harbor Dr S, Island of Venice for residents of South Sarasota County and surrounding areas.  Both events will feature refreshments and activities for children.

The Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, Inc. is also celebrating with its Annual World Breastfeeding Week Door Decorating Contest. Local businesses, organizations and healthcare facilities are invited to decorate an office door, window, or public space that is visible to the public with a message that promotes or supports breastfeeding. This year’s theme is “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers” highlighting Breastfeeding Peer Counseling.  Judging takes place the week of August 1st and winners will be announced the week of August 8th.  Winners receive the coveted “Golden Nipple Award”.

Finally, the Coalition and its community taskforce, the Breastfeeding Advocates of Sarasota County, are hosting their third annual “Breastfeeding Blog Hop” to spread positive messages and education about breastfeeding utilizing the World Wide Web. A blog hop is a way to connect blogs writing about a similar topic – in this case supporting breastfeeding. This allows multiple blogs to share and promote the topic as well as each other, increasing traffic and the reach of the message.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that at infants are breastfed, with no supplements given, for at least the first 6 months of life, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant. Breastfeeding is proven to give babies the best start in life, providing optimal nutrition while also strengthening the immune system and nurturing maternal-child bonding. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to have: ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, and bacterial infections.  Breastfeeding is also beneficial for the mother, as it helps return the uterus to a normal size after pregnancy, prevents anemia, and reduces the risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and osteoporosis.

For more information, please call (941) 373-7070 or visit

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World Breastfeeding Week – Door/Window/Office Decorating Contest!

HSC-WBW-Web Birthways3World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year on August 1-7th in more than 120 countries to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world.

Click here to sign up! 

To celebrate, the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County and the Breastfeeding Advocates of Sarasota County are continuing our fabulous Decorating Contest. After submitting the entry form (available here), decorate any public space (door, window, bulletin board, etc.) with a message that promotes or supports breastfeeding. This decoration must be displayed at minimum from August 1-7 but you are welcome (and encouraged!) to display it throughout the month of August. Submit photos with a brief explanation of your entry to by August 5th.
WBWDDWebThe coveted “Golden Nipple” Award will be presented for the best entry in a category. Past awards include: Most Educational, Best Use of Humor, Most Beautiful, Creative Use of Materials, Best Use of Cultural Diversity, Best Use of Theme, and MORE!
Winners will be announced the week of August 10th.
Sponsored by the Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County and the Breastfeeding Advocates of Sarasota County.
For previous year entries click here.
For more information, please contact us at 941-373-7070 or

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Free Drop-In Breastfeeding Support!

SCHD Drop in BF FlyerDo you have questions or concerns about breastfeeding? Want to make sure you have a great latch? Pregnant? Want to meet other local breastfeeding moms? Join the Breastfeeding Advocates of Sarasota County (BASC) for 3 free weekly drop-in groups throughout May and June! Free $10 Publix Gift Cards or Diapers (while supplies last) just for attending. Light refreshments provided!

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Press Release: ROSE Community Transformer Training Aims to Reduce Racial Disparities in Breastfeeding in Sarasota County

FOR IMMEDIATE Release: April 15, 2016

DSC_1690ROSE Community Transformer Training Aims to Reduce Racial Disparities in Breastfeeding in Sarasota County

Additional efforts to train Care Providers and Provide Drop-In Support

The Healthy Start Coalition of Sarasota County, Inc. in partnership with Sarasota Memorial Hospital and the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota, was awarded a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) to reduce the growing breastfeeding disparity between African-Americans and Caucasians in our county.

Although the overall breastfeeding initiation rates are 86.4% in the county, only 66.5% of black residents initiate breastfeeding, with rates significantly dropping at 3 months.  The over-arching goal of the project is to increase local evidence-based breastfeeding support by: providing up-to-date training for care providers who already interfacing with our target population, implementing an innovative, culturally relevant peer support program for African-American women, providing drop-in breastfeeding support to targeted, underserved communities, and developing consistent messaging and materials for all partnering agencies.

As part of this project, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), a non-profit organization from Atlanta, Georgia, will provide specialized training for women who have breastfed so they can support women in their own communities.

This two-day training will be held at the Sarasota Memorial Waldemere Plaza on Thursday, April 28th and Friday, April 29th, from 9am – 3:30pm. Lunch is provided, along with a stipend of $100 for those attending both days.

After this training, women can provide breastfeeding support to moms in their community informally or through hosting breastfeeding clubs or at one of the drop-in breastfeeding support groups that the grant is funding. These support groups will be held in Newtown, North Port, and at the Health Department located at 2200 Ringling Boulevard in Sarasota. While the first two are in the early planning stages, the Health Department’s drop-in support is set to begin May 7th and run from 10am to 12pm at the Ringling Health Center Location.

These paid opportunities will provide increased access to free breastfeeding support in areas that need additional services. This additional support, along with other activities through the grant, will increase breastfeeding rates and decrease the gap between populations.

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Special Announcement: Healthy Start receives grant funding to combat racial disparities in breastfeeding

Rose-WebPosted February 26, 2016

While Sarasota County has a rising overall breastfeeding rate and multiple organizations offering affordable support, there are many gaps that need addressed, particularly racial disparities in breastfeeding. Thanks to a grant from NACCHO (National Association of County and City Health Officials) and a partnership with Sarasota Memorial Hospital and the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, we now have an opportunity to address these concerns.

Drop-in clinics and breastfeeding clubs will be held in currently underserved areas of our community. Located in the Sarasota Health Department, Newtown area, and North Port, these free support groups will be staffed by peer counselors, newly trained breastfeeding staff, and seasoned breastfeeding professionals for immediate help and support, as well as rapid referral. Training will be offered to provide the most up-to-date evidence-based education available for local professionals and family support workers.

Due to the increasing disparity in breastfeeding rates, an innovative, culturally relevant peer support program for African-American women will be implemented with continued support through Raising Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE). (If you are an African-American woman who is passionate about breastfeeding, click here to learn more about the ROSE Community Transformer Training!)

In addition, there will be ample opportunities to share best practices through a community workshop and sharing panel and bi-monthly meetings in our successful and well-established local breastfeeding taskforce, the Breastfeeding Advocates of Sarasota County. This cooperative effort will result in a cohesive, knowledgeable breastfeeding support available to the entire community, including areas that are at-risk and underserved.

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January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month

PACTBirth defects are common, costly, and critical. Every 4½ minutes, a baby is born with a major birth defect in the United States. Become an active participant in National Birth Defects Prevention Month by joining the nationwide effort to raise awareness of birth defects, their causes and their impact.

We know that not all birth defects can be prevented. However, we encourage all women to make healthy choices and adopt healthy habits to help lower their risk of having a baby born with a birth defect. This year we are encouraging all women to make a PACT for their own health and the family they may have one day.

Plan ahead

  • Get as healthy as you can before you get pregnant.
  • Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.

Avoid harmful substances

  • Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking.
  • Be careful with harmful exposures at work and home.

Choose a healthy lifestyle

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and healthy fats and oils.
  • Be physically active.
  • Work to get medical conditions like diabetes under control.

Talk to your healthcare provider

  • Get a medical checkup.
  • Discuss all medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
  • Talk about your family medical history.

Women and their loved ones can participate in a PACT and take these important steps toward a healthy pregnancy. Share your own tips for healthy pregnancy using #LivingMyPACT on social media.

The National Birth Defects Prevention Network, in collaboration with many state and local organizations, are working together to raise awareness of birth defects and encourage women to make a PACT for prevention. Learn more about the effect you can have on birth defects at

For more information on getting healthy before or between pregnancies, visit our Show Your Love page.

[From: National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN)]

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Client Success Story – Melanie


Melanie with Amani Rose

“2001, I was sitting a at a stop light. All of a sudden, I heard screeching tires and looked in my rear view mirror just in time to brace my hands on the steering wheel for impact. A 19 year old kid playing with his radio rear ended me doing 35 mph. Ouch. I did the normal routine of getting an x-ray, MRI, exam, etc. At the time I was working on Siesta Key at a great little resort, my high school sweetie/hubby and I owned our home, and we had a beautiful little girl named Alexis, who was 4 at the time. My husband was the finance director at dealership, and we loved going on cruises! (As a matter of fact we got married on a cruise ship!!)

Life was good. Pain was bad. We both went to the “pain management” doctor to see what we could do to “manage” our pain… [My husband] was prescribed pills right from the start. I chose to do the massage therapy, acupuncture and cortisone shots instead. After about a year, when my methods stopped being quite as effective, I asked him for one of his pills. I remember the day clearly. I was a wedding coordinator at the resort and had a HUGE wedding coming up that weekend, and still had TONS of “to-do’s” that were yet to be checked off. Not even thinking twice, I broke the pill in half, took half that morning and away I went. (Who has time to be in pain when you have a Bridezilla and her Mother to deal with right?!)

By noon I felt like Superwoman. No pain, no numb leg, no worries! By 5:00 I was starting to hurt, then I remembered I had the other half of the pill in my pocket! I was able to finish my day with NO pain, TONS of energy, picked my daughter up from my Mom’s house, went grocery shopping, cooked dinner and by 9pm I still felt great! All from ONE little pill…

This went on for months, and eventually I was able to get my own prescription for the same medications. I felt invincible. I could do it ALL and not feel the pain caused from that accident. Time went on. My husband went from Finance Director and changed fields to become a Realtor. Landed his first job selling million dollar homes. More vacations, more nice things, bigger house, nicer cars, boats, we had it all. In our eyes, we were living “The Dream”…What we didn’t realize, or maybe we weren’t ready to admit, is that our dependency on these pills had now become an addiction. Tolerance levels went up. [We] had to have more. So we went to another doctor to get more. Simple, right? Yes. But also very illegal.

Fast forward to 2008, I got pregnant with my now 6 year old son, Anthony. Still addicted to opiates. My beautiful little boy was born addicted as well. Of course, DCF stepped in and took him from me. I was so far gone in my addiction that I didn’t even WANT help. I felt like a piece of trash, that baby boy deserved better. And I couldn’t give him the life he deserved because of my addiction. Oh, did I mention my daughter was placed with my mother about a year prior to my son being born BECAUSE of my addiction? I couldn’t even stay clean long enough to complete my case plan. I had given up on life, I had no hope. Plenty of money, but NO HOPE. I had stopped going to church, my faith was at an all time low, right along with my self esteem. I didn’t have my kids, So what was the point of trying to get clean???

Then it happened…..July 29, 2010…I woke up to the sun shining in my bedroom window, wiggled myself out of my hubby’s arms (he loved to snuggle!) got up to get a drink and when I walked back into my bedroom and looked at my husband, he was dead. Gone. I felt light headed and woozy. I think I screamed for his cousin (who lived with us at the time) and I don’t remember much else that day other than me begging the coroner to let him stay with me… I started bargaining with God, if he would just let Mark breathe I PROMISED to not touch another pill ever again, I had already lost my 2 babies, but now I lost the man I had been with for the last 22 YEARS of my life, my soulmate, my BEST FRIEND, my rock. Gone in a flash.

So tragedies like this would normally make someone open their eyes and see the light, right? Nope. Now I REALLY had nothing to live for. I tried to overdose many times after that horrific day. Every time I would write a goodbye letter to my kids, my family and then when I would wake up ALIVE the next morning I couldn’t believe it. GODS GOT JOKES!!!! I was supposed to die too..But I didn’t. I went to rehab after getting caught for doctor shopping. The Judge had mercy on me, since I had never been in ANY trouble before, he sentenced me to The Salvation Army rehab and 2 years probation. [I] completed rehab successfully, and the tools I learned there changed me for the better. But with only ONE MONTH left of probation, I violated by taking prescription pain pills for a dental issue. So I was sentenced to Drug Court. Fast forward to me getting pregnant while in drug court…

PREGNANT?? ME??? No, you must be mistaken. I’m almost 40 years old…That’s when I realized my purpose. It was there all along. My children. And now this blessing from God above (whom we call Amani Rose!)… Of course, because of my past with opiate addiction, DCF was alerted that I was pregnant. This time, I held my head high and proud, and GLADLY peed in that cup for them (which I had to do EVERY DAY for my ENTIRE pregnancy while in drug court anyway)… Because of the open DCF case, Healthy Start contacted me to see “how they could be of help” to me while I was pregnant.
Ohhhhh no…Everyone “knows” Healthy Start works hand in hand with DCF! I wanted nothing to do with them at first. Then I met Shavon. She explained her role in my pregnancy, how she could actually HELP me and my little family, and assured me that she had my and my unborn child’s best interests at heart. I was still leery….I prayed about it. I asked God to guide me in the right direction. The very next day I signed up as a client of Healthy Start! I had nothing to hide, and nothing to lose!! What harm could it do??? I did my research, I talked to other Moms who were also clients. I had such a GOOD feeling in my heart about Healthy Start. . Don’t forget, I was about 7 months pregnant at this point, living at my Dad’s house, with NO AC in August, no car, no job and nowhere to bring our baby home to!! Before I knew it, Shavon was helping me and my partner with getting funds to move into our own little place!!
It was EXACTLY the help we needed to get the ball rolling in a positive direction….We moved in, and 2 weeks later our beautiful 14lb 2oz baby girl was born!! Thanks to Healthy Start we had a HOME, a SAFE PLACE to bring our baby to!! It took a few weeks to get on our feet, but we were offered SO MANY incredible services through Healthy Start!! We were able to buy a minivan a few months after our daughter was born…Of course, our case with DCF was closed successfully and our family continues to thrive. EVERY chance I get, I explain Healthy Start’s mission, I explain what they have to offer, I try to educate every pregnant woman I know on ways Healthy Start can help her and her unborn baby! Even AFTER Amani was born, and came home (with a Mic-Key button due to not wanting to eat orally) Shavon came over to see if I needed breastfeeding assistance, or formula, or referrals to other agency’s for furniture and clothes…The list is endless. My gratitude is NEVER GOING TO END! I love Healthy Start and EVERYTHING it represents!!
Most recently I was able to explain to a very scared young pregnant woman who is battling addiction that HS can HELP her AND her unborn son. I gave her the number, I even drove her down to the office to meet with her counselor. I want every woman, every family to know EXACTLY what Healthy Start is and how wonderful they are!!!!
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Alcohol-and pregnancy: No safe amount; No safe time; No safe alcohol. Period.

Alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix. This September marks the first annual FASD Awareness Month.

What is FASD?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term used to cover the various effects that can occur when babies are exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. This includes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), the most well-known and serious result.

FASD effects can include behavioral, mental or learning disabilities, and birth defects, including facial deformities.

Any alcohol – regardless of the type, amount, or frequency – can lead to FASD.

Did you know?

  • FASD affects 1 in 100 infants born each year – more than autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, and sudden infant death syndrome combined.
  • The US spends and estimated $5.4 billion each year treating FAS alone.
  • Each year, as many as 40,000 babies are born with FASD.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are not curable, but they are 100% preventable. Choose not to drink if you are pregnant, or suspect you are. Alcohol causes the most serious long-term effects of all substances misused or abused during pregnancy.


  • No amount of alcohol has been proven “safe” for your baby.
  • There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy.
  • If you are drinking alcohol, take proper steps to prevent pregnancy.

Did you use alcohol or drugs during pregnancy?

You are not alone. Join the Circle of Hope/Birth Mother’s Network (COH/BMN), a network of women who used alcohol or drugs during pregnancy and may have a child with FASD.  The women of the Circle of Hope support one another in recovery and through the challenges of parenting a child with FASD.

For more information about the Circle of Hope, visit:

For more information about FASD and alcohol use during pregnancy go to:

If you are pregnant and using alcohol, contact the Healthy Start Program today for free, confidential support! 941-861-2905

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Client Success Story: Meagan McMullem

Posted August 31, 2015

“An unplanned pregnancy is a challenge in it self. When you add to that raising two older children (one of which was diagnosed with autism) and a lack of a true support system, you panic! I was embarrassed that I had found myself in this position. However, I was willing to embrace the challenge and come out stronger.

This pregnancy was met with many obstacles including the emotional death of my Dad to pancreatic cancer. For awhile I lost focus of the bright side. I was already struggling. How was I going to make this happen? How was I going to hold it all together? Am I making the right choice or being selfish?

Luckily, for me, I had [my Healthy Start Care Coordinator] Jennifer! Jennifer could walk into my home visits and completely turn things around. She had an uncanny ability to get me back on track. Slowly mounds of pressure were relieved. Somehow every time she would give me a lead they worked out, which is not common for me.

I was also connected with [Healthy Start Counselor] Chip. An amazing man who could bring me down a few levels. He talked me thru the night my Dad passed and allowed for frequent “check ins”. I found a breast feeding class in which I earned a pack and play. There were also countless social service organizations that I was able to establish assistance with.

Let me not forget, the use of a maternity photo on the front cover of Healthy Start brochures which are recognized around the area. Rather than boast about it sighting these brochures reminds me that I represent the good that comes from Healthy Start. My struggle, my hour of need, is used to bring hope to other mothers who feel overwhelmed during pregnancy. Those who chose to hold themselves accountable but just need the opportunity for a support system to shine it’s light. I see the brochures and I am humbled. My struggle is real but how I proceed to handle it is being observed. I’m a role model for those who too seek out the support of healthy start.

I’m reminded of a quote from my Dad which I have taken as his greatest lesson, “The way to find success is to give up yourself and give to others. . . . Go out of your way to benefit your fellow man, and the return is phenomenal.”. I live every day with this concept close to my heart!” – Meagan McMullem

Meagan was photographed by local Photographer, Peter Acker, and featured in the Healthy Start Coalition’s new “Guide to Programs” brochure.

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Client Success Story: Tiffany – Smoke free and giving her baby a Healthy Start!

Tiffany2015Posted August 24, 2015

“Life is difficult”. This quote from psychologist M. Scott Peck might sound like a huge understatement to a young woman struggling through her teen years but it was true for 25 year old Tiffany. Pregnant at 18 years old, and needing but not getting adequate guidance at home, she was seeking comfort where she could find it.
“I started smoking around age 15,” she says. At that age most young smokers see only the illusion of a cigarette’s lure. Never do they really confront the reality that, among other truths, cigarette smoking is the #1 preventable cause of death in our country. “I tried to quit but it never worked! I’d start up again in a couple of days.” Then came her entrance into using drugs.
In February of 2015 she came to the Mothers and Infants program at First Step of Sarasota County. Pregnant again, and smoking, she would need to learn more about the hazards of smoking and learn some new and powerful techniques to manage cravings and emotional triggers if she was to truly conquer her addictions.
Chip Schaaff is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who is in his 20th year of working with the Healthy Start Program of Sarasota County. In the past, he provided mental health counseling as well as smoking cessation to Healthy Start clients. As a result of financial cut-backs at the state level, however, he no longer can provide the counseling so many of his Healthy Start mothers need, but he does continue smoking cessation and relapse prevention to pregnant women and new mothers.
“Tiffany was a good example of a woman who wanted to do the right thing for her baby but didn’t know how,” he said. “The first step is always to provide education about the harmful effects of smoking to all parts of the body and especially to fetal development.” But knowing the facts is not usually enough to change behavior; how to manage the physical triggers such as stress or cravings also needs to be learned.

Tiffany began to accept new information that was presented and to use new techniques to manage her emotions and her thinking. She learned deep breathing – sometimes called the “relaxation response” – and additional ways to focus her mind with mindful meditation. Tiffany shared, “I honestly used the meditating technique I learned in [Chip’s] class during my C-section. I was there alone because I went into labor early so I went to a calm state where I have honestly never been more relaxed. I almost fell asleep and then I heard my baby cry!”
Now, Tiffany has been smoke-free for 4 months and she is successfully breastfeeding her 1 month old daughter. Fear of what smoking could have done and where her life might have gone is replaced by something new and wonderful: confidence in herself and hope for her future.

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Can Healthy Start help you?

Tara Tomlinson PhotographyCongratulations on your pregnancy or new baby!

Healthy Start is here to provide professional, confidential services to help you and your baby, at no cost to you.

At your first prenatal visit, you will be given a Healthy Start screening form. Even if you are not referred to Healthy Start by your doctor, midwife, or birthing center, you and your baby may still be eligible for free classes and services.

If you live in Sarasota County and are pregnant or have a baby under 3 years old, you may be eligible for Healthy Start.

Some of the services available are:

  • Childbirth Education
  • Breastfeeding Education and Support
  • Parenting Education
  • Infant & Child CPR
  • Support for Quitting Smoking
  • Counseling / Therapy
  • Prenatal and Postpartum Yoga
  • Developmental Screenings
  • Referrals to Community Resources
  • And more!

Healthy-Start-Program-LogoCall us today to learn more!

  • Healthy Start Program: (941) 861-2905
  • Healthy Start Coalition: (941) 373-7070
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