Whether or not to bank your baby’s cord blood is just one of many decisions you’ll need to make before your baby is born. Research is being conducted that will make cord blood treatments more common in the years to come. Read on for information to help you make an informed decision on whether cord blood banking is right for your family.
What is Cord Blood Banking?
Cord blood banking is the storing of the blood retrieved from your baby’s umbilical cord after he is born. Cord blood contains stem cells which can be used to treat more than 80 conditions including:
- certain cancers, including lymphoma and leukemia
- metabolic conditions, such as Tay Sachs and Hunter Syndrome
- immune system disorders, including Aplastic Anemia
- blood disorders, like Sickle Cell Anemia
Stem cells in cord blood can also be used to strengthen the immune system after chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Bone marrow stem cells do not have this capability.
Note that with some cases with genetic illnesses, your child’s cord blood may not be used to treat his own illness. It may, however, be suitable for treating a sibling or close family member with an illness.
What is the procedure for Cord Blood Banking?
Just like in a normal birth, your child’s umbilical cord will be cut and clamped. Instead of being discarded, the umbilical cord is taken to another room and the cord blood extracted and placed into a storage container. From there, the blood is placed into a temperature-controlled container and shipped to your storage facility via a private medical carrier. Next, the stem cells are placed into cryogenic storage, available for use for years to come. The procedure is painless and completely safe for both your child and yourself.
Answers to Common Questions about Cord Blood Banking
Will the procedure to retrieve the blood take valuable stem cells away from my baby?
No. The umbilical cord is cut and clamped just like in a normal birth. The only difference is that in a normal birth, the umbilical cord would be discarded at this point. With cord blood banking, the cord is cut and clamped and the leftover blood removed.
Are cord blood cells the same as embryonic stem cells?
No. With an embryonic stem cell procedure, the fetus is usually destroyed and the unborn child aborted. With cord blood cells, your child is not placed in any danger. The cord blood is not retrieved until after your baby is born and the umbilical cord has been cut and clamped.
Can I choose delayed cord clamping and still bank my baby’s cord blood?
Yes. Delayed cord clamping involves waiting to cut and clamp your child’s umbilical cord. Doing so enables blood to drain back into your baby and reduce the risk of iron deficiency. As long as delayed cord clamping does not last longer than 5 minutes, the umbilical cord should still have more than 25% of its blood left, which is enough for cord blood banking.
Bear in mind that the less cord blood you store, the less you will have to treat an illness. Read the ‘disadvantages’ section below for more information on this point.
What about cord blood tissue?
Many cord blood banks will also allow you to store your child’s cord blood tissue. At this point, there are no treatments available using cord blood tissue, but clinical trials are underway and successful treatments may only be a few years away. Cord blood tissue is found to specifically work with the spinal cord, brain, and cartilage.
The Downsides to Cord Blood Banking
There are differing opinions on the use and value in banking your child’s cord blood. Estimates vary widely as to whether your child will ever use his or her own cord blood. While the cord blood storage companies have very low statistics, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimate is much higher. Other researchers are somewhere in the middle.
Issues with Treating Illness with Your Child’s Own Stem Cells
If your child has a genetic illness, his own stem cells may not be used to treat the illness because they will have the same flaws in their genetic makeup. However, if your child has a sibling with a genetic illness, your child’s cord blood may be found to be a good match for treating his sibling’s disease. Also, a child’s own stem cells cannot be used to treat leukemia, a cancer of the blood.
Costs of Private Cord Blood Banking
Private cord blood banking can be very expensive (more information on costs is below). While donating your child’s cord blood is free, there is no guarantee that it will be available at such time that your child or a close family member needs it.
Volume of Cord Blood Retrieved
The amount of stem cells retrieved from the umbilical cord may be very small. In some cases, the number of stem cells will only be enough to treat a small (65 lb) child. There are often not enough stem cells to treat an adult. In this case, units of stem cells from different donors may be combined to create the amount necessary for an adult transplant.
What options are available for cord blood banking?
- Public cord blood banking – in this case, you are donating your baby’s cord blood so that it will be available for anyone to use to treat illnesses. In this case, the stem cells may no longer be available for your family if they are needed. Researchers may also use these stem cells for clinical trials or experimental treatments. It is free to donate your child’s cord blood to a public cord blood bank.
- Private cord blood banking – in this case, you are storing your baby’s cord blood for the exclusive use of your family. Your child’s cord blood may be suitable for treating your child, siblings or other close family members. There are upfront costs averaging between $1,000 and $2,000 and an annual storage fee of approximately $125 for this service. Private cord blood banking may be beneficial in certain situations such as:
- where a family has a history of genetic diseases
- adoption, if the birth mother will agree, since the adoptive family will not share the same genetic makeup as the baby.
- pregnancies involving sperm, egg or embryo donation, where one or both parents will not share the same genetic makeup as the baby.
Options for Private Cord Blood Banking
There are many options available to you for private cord blood banking. Here are some of the more widely known private banks:
If you choose to utilize cord blood banking, you will need to notify the bank four to six weeks prior to your due date. A kit will be shipped to you in the mail, with instructions on the process for banking your baby’s cord blood. Review the instructions and fill out any paperwork well in advance of your due date. Notify your obstetrician in advance if you intend to bank your baby’s cord blood. When you arrive at the hospital, notify the medical staff and give them the kit you received from the cord blood bank.
Even if you don’t intend to store your child’s cord blood with a private bank, consider donating it to a public bank. So many valuable stem cells are discarded instead of being donated to a public cord blood bank. Your child’s cord blood could be used in some important research or even be used to save a life!