Your baby’s cord blood
There’s a lot to think about when you’re expecting a baby. It’s a thrilling time. But also a confusing one. There will be a lot of decisions to make.
Some decisions will be straightforward, others complicated. One choice that can be confusing is whether to donate, bank, or discard your baby’s cord blood.
What is cord blood banking?
Until the 1970s, the placenta (the organ that nourishes the baby while in the mother's uterus) and umbilical cord (which connects the unborn baby to the mother’s womb) were thrown out as medical waste. After that, researchers realized that the umbilical cord blood was rich in blood-forming cells.
These cells can transform into just about any human cell. So they can be used as treatment for patients with life-threatening illnesses like leukemia, lymphoma, or certain inherited metabolic or immune system disorders.
An umbilical cord blood transplant, like a bone marrow transplant (also called a BMT), replaces a patient's diseased cells with healthy ones.
Path to improved health
So instead of simply throwing cord blood away, parents can choose other options. They can:
Donate to a public cord blood bank. This option can help someone you don’t know. Your baby’s cord blood will be stored and listed on a public donation registry.
Cord blood from a registry can be particularly useful if someone who needs it has no adult donor who is a close match, someone needs a transplant quickly and doesn’t have the time to wait for a donor to be found, and when a person’s ethnic background is important in predicting the likelihood of finding a match. It costs nothing to the parents donating and donations serve a pivotal role in helping to save lives.
If you choose to go this route, you should speak to your doctor or midwife about your decision to donate some time between your 28th and 34th week of pregnancy. You’ll need to make sure you meet donation guidelines and check the list of hospitals that collect cord blood.
If yours is listed, contact the cord blood bank that works with your hospital. They’ll check to see if you can donate and tell you what you need to do. You’ll need to finish health history forms, tell them the type of expected delivery, and sign a donation consent form.
When you’re ready to deliver, tell the labor and delivery team you’re donating umbilical cord blood. After your baby is born, your doctor will clamp the umbilical cord and collect blood from the cord and placenta in a sterile bag. You’ll need to give a blood sample to be tested for infectious diseases. Finally, the cord blood will be sent to the public bank.
Later, at the cord blood bank, the tissue will be typed and listed on the registry. Only a number will identify the cord blood, never a name.
Save it for a family member who needs it. This option is for people who have family members with a disease that may be treated with a cord blood transplant. This is called directed donation. Collecting and storing cord blood for this purpose is offered at little or no cost to eligible families.
Store the cord blood in a private bank. The theory for storing cord blood privately is that if your child or anyone in your family gets sick and needs those cells, they will be there as an insurance policy. For those who choose to pay the collection and yearly storage fees, private family cord banks are available throughout the country.
Things to consider
While no exact estimates exist currently, the odds of needing privately banked cord blood for the future are very low. It’s a very rare event for a family to bank cord blood just in case they might need it in the future and then actually need it.
Cord blood banking and storage is expensive. Initial collection and shipping fees are typically between about $500 and $2000. Annual storage fees typically range from $100 to $200. These fees are not generally reimbursed by health insurers.
Prominent medical organizations have published recommendations about cord blood donation and storage. They discourage storing cord blood at private banks as insurance for later, unproven uses.
However, they do endorse donating umbilical cord blood to public banks when possible, and banking through the Related Donor Cord Blood Program if there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo stem cell transplantation.
Questions to ask your doctor
- If I choose to bank my baby’s cord blood, what type of storage do you recommend?
- Is there anything in my family health history that might mean we could benefit from cord blood banking?
- Are there any risks to banking my baby’s cord blood?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.