We've heard a lot about the Zika virus over the past few weeks, due to a recent outbreak in Brazil which has since prompted serious questions about the impact of the infection. While it's been rather common in certain African and Asian countries for many years, it's only since the infection has spread to Brazil that the western world has began to show concern regarding its impact.
While for the most part the infection is largely symptom-free, presenting no lasting harm to those who become infected, the outbreak in Brazil has led to concerns that Zika could be linked to microcephaly in infants, causing them to be born with unusually small heads.
If you are currently pregnant, or planning to become pregnant in the near future, here are a few things you should know about the Zika virus and its impact on unborn children:
Does Zika cause brain damage?
While the evidence linking microcephaly to Zika is largely circumstantial, there was a clear surge in the amount of babies being born with the disease during the outbreak, which would suggest that Zika is, in fact, the cause. As for the issue of microcephaly itself, in around fifteen percent of cases it accounts for the physical impact (i.e. reduced head size) only, while in the remainder of cases it can prevent proper brain development.
Which countries present the highest risk?
Countries in South America are naturally at risk due to their proximity to Brazil, as are those in which the virus was already prevalent, such as Kenya, Egypt, India and more. The most up-to-date information on which countries pose a risk can be found here.
What should I do if I've visited a high-risk country?
Aside from rare exceptions, the virus does not linger in the body, and once you have recovered from the infection you will become immune. This means that this risks for women who have previously visited the country before getting pregnant are very low. Despite this, if you have visited the at-risk countries whilst pregnant (or during the early stages of conception), you should most certainly seek medical advice and get your blood tested. You should also get an ultrasound scan to check that your baby is developing properly, although evidence can not be detected until the end of the second trimester.
Should I worry about Zika if I'm trying to conceive?
As mentioned above, Zika is particularly dangerous in the early stages of pregnancy, which means that those looking to conceive should avoid visiting the countries which are most at risk. Those who are not trying to get pregnant are also being warned to be diligent with their birth control routine, in order to avoid an unplanned pregnancy with a high risk of complications. There has also been some evidence to suggest that it is possible to transmit the virus via sexual intercourse, which means that those with partners who have also recently returned from one of the affected areas should also exercise caution.
How can I avoid infection?
Travellers to high-risk countries should attempt to avoid infection by avoiding or minimising their contact with mosquitoes, taking precautions such as wearing long clothing and sleeping under mosquito nets. Sadly, there is no way to completely avoid infection if you are in these countries during pregnancy or at the time of conception, which is why pregnant or soon-to-be pregnant women are encouraged to avoid high-risk locations altogether.
If you've recently become pregnant for the first time, you no doubt have a million and one questions to ask about the experience that lies ahead. However, if we had to guess the single most common query amongst mothers-to-be, it would probably be this:
Which foods should I avoid while I'm pregnant?
It's only natural to worry about the ways in which your diet might adversely affect the child you're carrying, but there is a lot
of misinformation out there regarding this topic. Since we've already tackled
the topic of whether or not a pregnant woman should imbibe alcohol, today we'd like to talk about food; not only will this short guide tell you which foods to steer clear of during pregnancy, it will also bust a few myths and highlight the foods that, in spite of what some people say, you can
safely consume without putting your unborn baby at risk.
Foods to avoid
First of all, here's a quick list of foods that you definitely shouldn't eat when you're pregnant:
- Raw eggs (and dishes that contained raw/undercooked eggs). Eggs should be cooked thoroughly before consumption to prevent salmonella.
- Raw or undercooked meat. This includes cured meats (unless they have been cooked beforehand), as well as rare steak. Do not eat meat if any part of the meat is still pink, or if there is any trace of blood.
- Certain soft cheeses. Anything with a white rind (e.g. brie) or blue veins (e.g. gorgonzola) should be avoided, unless the cheese has been cooked thoroughly before consumption.
- Certain types of fish (the NHS recommends that pregnant women avoid eating shark, marlin and swordfish).
- Raw shellfish. Ensure that any shellfish you consume during your pregnancy has been cooked properly first.
- Unpasteurised milk.
- Pâté (even if it doesn't contain any meat).
- Liver (and dishes that contain liver).
- Unwashed fruit/vegetables. Make sure that any soil has been washed off your fruit/veg before you eat it.
- Certain vitamin supplements. Be sure to avoid fish liver oil supplements and vitamin A supplements in particular.
Foods you can eat
Listed below are some foods that are often said to be potentially harmful if consumed during pregnancy. All of them are, in fact, safe to eat when pregnant; however, please pay careful attention to the advice given alongside each item, as some of these foods can cause problems for you and your baby if prepared incorrectly or eaten too regularly.
- Most types of fish and shellfish are OK to eat if they have been cooked properly. You can eat uncooked fish too, as long as it has been frozen before consumption (this will generally include sushi sold at supermarkets - if in doubt, stick to sushi that contains only cooked fish and vegetables). Tuna and other oily fish can be enjoyed in moderation; we recommend visiting the NHS Choices website for more information on how much tuna/oily fish you can safely eat while pregnant.
- Yoghurt is safe as long as it was made using pasteurised milk. The same is true of ice cream.
- Venison and other game should only be avoided if the animal was shot using lead bullets. Speak to the supplier if you're unsure where the meat came from.
- Liquorice may be eaten freely during pregnancy.
- Caffeine may be consumed during pregnancy; however, it is recommended that you do not exceed 200g of caffeine a day.
- Green tea can be enjoyed in moderation - limit yourself to no more than 4 cups a day, and bear in mind that each cup will count towards your daily caffeine limit too (see above).
Click here for more blog posts about pregnancy, or visit our Scan Packages page to browse the scan options available from First Encounters Ultrasound.
There is very little in life that compares to the very special feeling and excitement that comes with being pregnant. Undergoing an ultrasound scan
, keeping track of your baby’s development, and watching them grow can provide very special bonding moments for a couple that’s expecting.
In addition to providing these special moments for new families, scans can also pick up potential health issues and warning signs that can be caught by attending private scans in addition to the usual 8-14 week NHS Scan. Your baby’s health is our main priority here at First Encounters, so all of our sonographers are fully trained to identify any potential health issues during your scan.
During every scan, we perform some essential checks to ensure that your baby is growing and developing at a healthy rate. Firstly, we measure your baby’s growth in the womb and compare this to the average for how far along you are. If your baby is significantly smaller or larger than average, this can indicate a problem; if your baby appears small, then this could mean that your baby is not growing properly. This can be because your baby is not getting the oxygen it needs to thrive. There are many reasons as to why this can be, such as abnormalities in the placenta, medical conditions, or the fact that you are carrying twins. If one of our sonographers identifies this to be an issue, we will inform you immediately and refer you to a hospital if we feel that this is necessary.
Secondly, we will measure your amniotic fluid levels. When you are pregnant, your growing baby is protected inside an amniotic sac within your womb. This sac is filled with fluid to protect your baby from harm if your tummy is bumped or squashed while you are pregnant. The amount of amniotic fluid increases throughout your pregnancy; however, if your baby is smaller than expected for the date, it could be because you have low fluid levels.
Our sonographer will check your fluid levels, and if we find any abnormalities, we will refer you to a hospital to get a professional medical opinion.
As well as determining the due date and the gender of your baby, private pregnancy scans are designed to reassure you that you and your baby are developing well, and that there are no issues throughout your pregnancy. A private scan should NEVER be used as a substitute for a standard hospital scan, but undergoing a private scan in addition to your NHS scans can alert sonographers to potential health issues that were not present (or visible) at first.
to book your pregnancy scan with First Encounters. For more news and advice about your pregnancy, follow First Encounters on Twitter
We’re often asked how early in a pregnancy we are able to offer our 3D ultrasound packages. This comes as no surprise; after all, we realise that many expectant parents are eager to get that breathtaking first glimpse of their unborn child!
If you’re keen to receive an early glimpse of your baby, we offer our 4DgenderAssure™
scan from 20 weeks gestation, giving you the chance to discover your baby’s gender and view live footage for the first time. As part of the package, you will first view live 2D images of your baby, before being shown some incredible 3D/4D imagery of your growing child on our plasma screen.
Not only will you be given the chance to discover your child’s gender in a relaxing and warm environment, you will also be able to chart how your baby’s health and wellness is developing, as our sonographers calculate their growth, position and other details about your child.
If you’re eager to experience this bonding and reassurance process as soon as possible, the 20 week 3D ultrasound scan is certainly your best option. However, if you’re willing to wait a little longer, you’ll be rewarded for your patience; we recommend 25-29 weeks as the optimum time to undergo a 3D scan.
The reason we recommend 25-29 weeks is due to the simple fact that this stage in the baby’s development tends to produce the best images. The foetus is not only more fully-developed at this stage, it also still has room for movement, making it far easier to get a view that will create a moving first impression. Another benefit of waiting just a little longer is that you will have access to a broader range of scan packages, which provides you with an extended range of options while allowing you to have a more personal and memorable experience.
Our ultimate goal here at First Encounters is to cater to the needs and expectations of expectant mothers and their families on a personal, non-generalised basis. Whether you wish to receive your scan early or would like to wait until further along in your pregnancy, we will try our very best to make the experience as relaxing and memorable as possible. We will also strive to produce the highest quality image, presenting you with a precious memento to treasure forever.
For more information about our range of scan packages, please click here.