First Encounters
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Meet Your Baby

In the past, expectant parents weren't able to meet their baby until he or she was born. But thanks to the miracles of modern ultrasound technology, mums- and dads-to-be no longer have to wait that long!

Of course, ultrasound scans have been with us for over half a century, but the images captured during 'traditional' ultrasound scans - while useful for diagnostic purposes - don't give a particularly good impression of what the baby actually looks like. However, more recent breakthroughs have allowed us to get a good, clear look at an unborn baby's face, and thanks to the latest HDlive technology from GE Healthcare, we at First Encounters are able to offer an truly unparalleled level of detail to parents who are keen to sneak a peek at their 'bun in the oven'.

This image was captured using a GE Voluson E6 with HDlive technology. As of July 2016, all of our 3D/4D scans are conducted using a Voluson E6.

Click here to compare our packages and book your baby scan online, or read on to find out what you can expect when you meet your baby at our clinic!

What to expect from your First Encounters scan

We have two ultrasound clinics: one in Cardiff, and another in Bristol. Both have ample parking available for customer use, so don't worry about finding a space!

Once you've arrived, we'll welcome you into our spacious, modern clinic and show you to one of our comfortable scanning rooms (all of which have room for up to six guests - everyone is welcome, including young children!).

One of our scanning rooms.

Our sonographer will make sure you're comfortable and feeling at ease before commencing the scan. The scan itself will take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes depending on the package you've selected. With any luck, we'll be able to get a great look at your baby on the first attempt, but if they're feeling camera shy we may ask you take a gentle stroll in order to get them moving.

During the scan, you'll see your baby in crisp HDlive vision - you should be able to tell which parent they most resemble, and you may even be lucky enough to see them smiling or waving back at you from the plasma screen!#

After your scan, you can collect all of the gifts and souvenirs included in your chosen scan package, as well as any others that you've decided to add on (click here to view what we have to offer).

Ready to meet your baby? Book your scan online now, or contact us if you have any further questions!

You may have heard - or read - about the 'Doppler' heart monitors that are currently very popular among expectant parents. Dopplers are small handheld devices that use ultrasound technology to monitor your unborn baby's heartbeat, ostensibly giving you an easy way to hear your child's heartbeat in the comfort of your own home.

It's easy to imagine why these devices have become so popular. They are relatively cheap to purchase, and when they work, they enable you to hear the heartbeat (a very moving experience for many parents-in-waiting) without having to visit a hospital or a private ultrasound clinic.

But there's one problem with Dopplers that we've come across time and again: they sometimes fail to find a heartbeat. Unborn babies tend to move around and change position a lot (especially prior to 30 weeks gestation), and this means that it is often very difficult to find the right spot. And even if you do find the right spot, there's still no guarantee that you'll hear anything - our highly-trained sonographers occasionally struggle to pick up an audible heartbeat, and that's with a visual representation of the baby on-screen.

When a Doppler fails to deliver an audible heartbeat, it can understandably be a source of panic for the mother. In the majority of cases, the foetus turns out to be absolutely fine, but getting stressed and rushing to the hospital is neither healthy nor a particularly enjoyable experience when you're pregnant!

This isn't to say that Doppler monitors should necessarily be avoided. They have provided many heartwarming moments for expectant parents, and in some cases, they can be a great source of reassurance. However, they can also have the opposite effect, breeding panic when in reality the unborn baby is perfectly healthy. Please bear this in mind before using a Doppler, and remember that these handheld home devices are no substitute for a full ultrasound scan carried out by a registered health professional.

We have seen a few scan providers who do offer home visits, but these really are best avoided, for the following reasons:
  • Portable scanning equipment is generally inferior to the state-of-the-art machinery found in the best ultrasound clinics

  • Plugging equipment into an unprotected power source may result in electric shock to the mother / baby

  • As explained here, regulated scan providers in England are not allowed to perform home scans as regulation only extends to a clinic environment
As much as we'd like to offer our clients the full First Encounters experience in the comfort of their own homes, there are simply too many obstacles - we wouldn't be able to deliver the professional, high-quality service that's available in our clinics.

Click here to see details of our ultrasound clinics in Cardiff and Bristol, or visit our Scan Packages page to browse the baby scan packages we offer.
First Encounters Safe Scan
Here at First Encounters Ultrasound, we are dedicated to the safety and wellbeing of everyone who visits our clinics. No matter which of our scan packages you select, we want you to feel completely confident and reassured when you choose us as your scan provider.

As you browse our website, you will likely see our 'Safe Scan' badge on a number of different pages. This is our own personal seal of quality, and it represents our commitment to keeping you safe from potential hazards and health risks when you undergo a First Encounters baby scan.

We accomplish this in two ways: by employing experienced, qualified sonographers and by using certified state-of-the-art scanning equipment from the world's leading supplier.

Our Sonographers

Our sonographers - the members of staff responsible for carrying out each scan - are all qualified health professionals who are capable of identifying diagnostic issues as well as capturing high-quality souvenir imagery. Every First Encounters sonographer is registered with either the Health Professionals Council (HPC) or the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which means that they meet these regulators' exacting standards in a range of important areas such as hygiene and professional behaviour.

All of our sonographers are fully qualified, fully trained, and highly experienced. They all hold postgraduate diplomas and know exactly how to conduct a safe scan that gets the best possible results for the expectant mother while keeping her and her unborn child completely protected throughout. 

Our Equipment

The equipment we use to carry out our scans is all supplied by GE Healthcare, the world's leading manufacturer of ultrasound/baby scanning equipment. Our 2D, 3D and 4D scans are performed using the GE Voluson E6, with HDlive technology that's capable of capturing clearer, crisper images than ever before.

More importantly, though, all of our machines are rigorously tested and certified safe for use, so rest assured that your safety will be preserved no matter what type of scan you opt for.

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There are countless ultrasound clinics operating in the UK today, but many of them don't go anywhere near far enough in the safety measures they take. An alarming number of scan providers don't employ registered health professionals or use certified scanning equipment, and this approach can unfortunately lead to dire consequences.

Here at First Encounters, we do everything we possibly can to ensure the safety of you and your unborn child. Click here to browse our available scan packages, or feel free to contact us now if you have any further questions.

earlyAssure scans available in Bristol and Cardiff

Here in the UK, an expectant mother generally won't get to see her unborn child until she attends her NHS dating scan, which tends to takes place at the end of the first trimester (i.e. roughly 12-13 weeks into the pregnancy). However, if you feel you require some reassurance prior to that point, you may want to consider booking an early pregnancy scan with First Encounters Ultrasound.

How soon can I have an early pregnancy scan?

Our earlyAssure™ early pregnancy scan package is available at 8-13 weeks gestation. Most of the expectant parents who come to us for an earlyAssure™ scan have not yet attended their first NHS scan, and so in these cases we serve as a first line of reassurance, offering mums- and dads-to-be a little extra peace of mind ahead of the hospital appointment.

What's included in an early pregnancy scan?

The earlyAssure experience is a 2D ultrasound scan that's geared towards dating, viability, and your own reassurance. We will ensure that your pregnancy is viable and estimate a due date based on a crown-to-rump measurement; we will also check yolk sac positioning.

Here's what you'll go home with after attending an early pregnancy scan at First Encounters:
You'll also have the option to purchase additional souvenirs, such as photographic fridge magnets, keyrings, and extra photos to share with family and friends.

Why get an early scan?

Here are some reasons why you may wish to get an early pregnancy scan:
  • If you are worried because you have experienced vaginal bleeding, an early scan will make sure that your pregnancy is still viable

  • An early scan will also exclude the possibility that you are suffering an ectopic pregnancy (learn more about ectopic pregnancies here)

  • Unlike the NHS scan (which you should still attend whether you decide to get an earlyAssure™ scan or not), a private scan will give you the opportunity to take home souvenirs such as those listed above
Visit our earlyAssure™ page now to book your early pregnancy scan, or click here to see the other scan packages we offer.

Pregnancy test photo by ecooper99
Private ultrasound scans
 
Recently, many worrying stories of unregulated ultrasound scan providers have come to our attention. There's a growing practice of misinformation and cutting corners that can cause customers to be sold a service that does not meet industry standards and, in the worst cases, can even cause mother and child to be put at risk. For this reason, we feel that it is vitally important for us to share this information with our readers, in order to allow expectant parents to make an informed decision when planning a private ultrasound scan.
 
While all 3D/4D ultrasound companies may seem quite similar at first glance, you may find on closer inspection that the provider you've chosen isn't being entirely honest about the services they offer. Here are some of the issues we've spotted most frequently here at First Encounters:

Misleading Customers Regarding Available Services

We've spotted many scan providers who claim to offer well-known services when in fact they do not use the equipment required to provide that service. One example of this is HD Live ultrasound, which can only truly be delivered using genuine HD Live equipment. We use an HD Live machine to conduct scans at our clinic in Cardiff, whereas at our Bristol clinic uses a GE Voluson I. Many providers will advertise that they offer 'HD Live' scanning, when in fact, they use other, inferior equipment to perform their scans.

Operating Without Regulation

In England, it has been mandatory for ultrasound providers to register with the CQC (Care Quality Commission) since 2010, yet some providers still attempt to avoid this requirement by claiming that their scans are 'for entertainment purposes only'. Those operating without regulation will often employ staff who have not been trained to a professional standard, and will use equipment that has not been properly tested - all without being subject to any independent inspections. To comply with English law and provide the highest level of service possible, First Encounters Bristol is approved, registered and regulated by the CQC, and is subject to regular checks to validate the quality of our services.
 
While our Cardiff clinic is unable to register with the CQC due to being based in Wales, not England, we do ensure that it meets the same standards as the Bristol clinic at all times. Many similar providers in Wales neglect to do so, due to the fact that the HIW (Health Inspectorate Wales) does not currently regulate the same diagnostic and screening activities as those monitored by the CQC in England. This is something to keep in mind when booking in Wales, as this makes it easier for unscrupulous scan providers to operate without detection.

Potentially Unsafe Equipment

As we've already touched upon, we strive to use the most up-to-date ultrasound equipment at our facilities. All of our equipment is purchased directly from the manufacturer, who gives us the knowledge required to set up and use these products properly. We also ensure that this equipment is inspected and serviced on a regular basis, in order to confirm that it is safe for use at all times.
 
Many scan providers do not meet the same standard, sourcing equipment second-hand and setting it up without the proper knowledge. One particular risk comes from providers who do not properly isolate the equipment they are using - this is very dangerous as it can lead to electric shocks!

Unqualified Sonographers 

Alongside their use of unmonitored and unreliable equipment, many independent scan providers will employ staff who are not properly qualified to perform a baby scan. In some cases, this will mean using sonographers who do not have any previous experience performing baby scans, rendering them unaware of what exactly to look for during a scan. In the worst cases, companies may use individuals who are not qualified whatsoever, a practice we view as highly irresponsible.
 
At both First Encounters clinics, scans are performed by qualified obstetric sonographers, which means that they have both the knowledge needed to operate ultrasound equipment and the experience needed to perform a baby scan and diagnose potential problems. Each of our sonographers is also registered with the Health Professional Council (HPC), which regulates their practice and ensures that they have the right skills and training to do their jobs.

What Should I Look Out For?

If you are concerned about a company's credentials as a responsible scan provider, here are a few things you can look out for:
  • Are they registered with the correct regulatory bodies? Is there evidence of this on their website?
  • Do they mention that their practice is for 'entertainment only' or 'non-diagnostic'? These could be warning signals that the practice is unregulated.
  • Does their equipment/staff register measure up with the services advertised?
  • Are their prices significantly lower than those other practices? If a price or deal seems too good to be true, it probably is!