Your Pregnancy Matters

Should I bank my baby’s umbilical cord blood?

Your Pregnancy Matters

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Blood cells in your newborn’s umbilical cord blood can be stored and used to treat diseases.

It may sound like science fiction, but the blood cells in your newborn’s umbilical cord blood can be stored and used to treat diseases like leukemia.

There are two ways to store cord blood. One is to donate it to a public facility where the donated cord blood will be used for anyone who needs it. The other is to store it in a private bank, for the exclusive use of your family members.

While there are outstanding medical benefits to both options, you have the final decision as a parent to choose donation, banking, or neither.

I’ve put together a summary of how cord blood cells can treat diseases, the differences between private banking and donating to a public facility, and the benefits of each, based upon my experience as a physician and as a mother myself.

How do cord blood cells treat disease?

Umbilical cord blood has special qualities. Cord blood contains stem cells – cells that are immature and have not been programmed to become any other type of cell.

Think about it this way: a cell from your skin is, and always will be, a skin cell. Cord blood cells don’t have that programming yet; they can become almost any type of cell, from neurons in the brain to hepatocytes in the liver. These young, adaptable cells are commonly referred to as stem cells.

Stem cell technologies can be used to treat a variety of serious conditions, including leukemia and sickle cell anemia. These patients often require bone marrow transplants. It can be difficult to find good donor matches, and transplants can be painful for both patients and donors.

Stem cells act much like a bone marrow transplant, but with two improvements:

  • Stem cells are easier to match because they haven’t developed restrictions to prevent them from being safely transplanted.
  • The process is painless to the donor. Cells are collected after the umbilical cord has been separated from the baby.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 709, which requires physicians to tell pregnant women about umbilical cord blood storage options: public donation, private banking, or doing neither. Talk to your physician at one of your prenatal appointments if you’d like to donate or privately store your baby’s cord blood.

Cord blood donation

Donating cord blood is much like donating blood to the Red Cross. It’s free, and your donation could help someone in need.

If you choose to donate, the process for extracting cord blood is simple and painless. Once the umbilical cord is separated from your baby, a physician collects as much of the blood remaining in the cord as possible. Then the blood is sent to a donation center, like the National Cord Blood Program, where it is screened for infections and genetic diseases. The blood is then cross-matched to see if any patient nationwide can use it in their medical therapy. If no match is found, the blood is cataloged and stored for later use.

Collecting cord blood in no way interferes with childbirth and will not harm your baby. If complications arise during delivery, cord blood collection is the last consideration and may not even be performed.

If you decide to donate your baby’s cord blood, contact a local or national donation facility. Cord blood donation is free to parents, and it is an easy way to help make a difference in the life of someone in need.

Cord blood banking

For some parents-to-be, private cord blood banking makes sense. If your newborn has a sibling or other family member who could benefit from stem cell therapy now, you may want to make a directed donation to that family member. If you want to save the blood in the event your child becomes sick down the road, cord blood banking might be an option. Be aware that there are no guarantees the banked blood will be useful in the future.

With private cord blood banking, the blood is extracted the same way as it is for a donation, but it is stored at a private bank instead of a public facility. Your baby’s cord blood can only be used at your discretion and will not be cross-matched for others to use. That way, if your child or an immediate family member becomes ill, the stem cells are available for potential therapy.

Private cord blood banking is rather expensive. It usually costs a few thousand dollars to get started, and it often requires a reception fee and yearly storage fees.

Should you donate or bank?

Here are a few things to consider as you decide whether to donate to a public bank, use a private bank, or not worry about your baby’s cord blood:

  • Have you been pressured into cord blood banking? The choice is yours as a parent. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel like you’re letting your child down if you don’t opt for cord blood banking or donation.
  • Is someone in your family sick now? Find out if a close relative can be helped right now by a directed donation of your baby’s cord blood stem cells.
  • Do you have a family history of illness that might be treated with cord blood? Ask your physician if your family history might fit this profile.
  • Can you afford storage? Don’t make cord blood banking costs a high-priority in your baby budget.

Personally, I did not bank my children’s cord blood. I looked into my family’s medical history and determined that it was unnecessary. Some banks state that only one in 2,700 privately banked samples is used for medical therapy. However, private storage does not hurt anything, except maybe your wallet.

Keep in mind, too, that you don’t have to donate the cord blood or bank it. While there are benefits to either option, you can simply choose to cross the issue off your birth list. The choice is completely yours as a parent.