Even though they provide nutrition to babies in the womb, the umbilical cord and placenta get little attention once they emerge into the world. But medical advances have given many couples a reason to give these often overshadowed tissues a second look.
What Is Cord Blood Banking?
Cord blood banking is a process of collecting potentially life-saving stem cells from the umbilical cord and placenta and storing them for future use. Stem cells are immature cells that can assume the form of other cells. They can be used to treat several diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma, anemia, and some immune system disorders.
If you choose to bank cord blood cells, you'll need to make arrangements ahead of time -- usually about two months before your delivery. Soon after your twins' birth, a nurse or doctor will collect the cord blood and a segment of the cord make sure it goes to the facility where it will be processed, frozen, and stored.
Why You May Choose Cord Blood Banking
You may consider cord blood banking for any number of reasons. If your family has a history of disease that can be treated with cord blood, you may consider this option in case one of your twins or another family member develops the condition. Or you may choose to bank cord blood just in case one of your twins becomes ill, even if you have no family history. You may also choose to donate cord blood to a public bank to help other families.
Limits of Cord Blood Banking
The primary drawback of cord banking is that it is only beneficial in very rare situations. The likelihood of a child having an illness that would benefit from properly matched banked cord blood is 1 in 2,700, though some experts think it is even less useful than that.
Stem cells from cord blood can be used to treat some, but not all diseases. If one of your twins is born with a genetic disorder or develops a childhood leukemia, the cord blood likely contains the same code that caused the problem in the first place. It cannot be used to treat either twin or any other person.
Cord blood cells from one healthy twin can be used to treat your other twin or another ill child, as long as the two are a good match. However, this benefit is greatest when the two children have a slightly different genetic makeup. This means that if your twins are identical (monozygotic), they will make poor blood donors for one another. If your twins are fraternal (dizygotic) they have the same chance as any other sibling of making a good donor for the other twin. Regardless of whether twins are identical or fraternal, cord blood could be used to treat another ill sibling.
The amount of stem cells from a single birth is enough to treat a child or young adult. Full-grown adults typically need more stem cells than are available in cord blood, though it is possible to combine stem cells from both of your twins. Additionally, the efficacy and safety of storing cord blood long enough for a child to become an adult has not been proven.
Cord Blood Banking Options
If you choose to bank cord blood, you can choose a public or private bank. Public banks operate much like blood banks. Cord blood donations become part of a public reserve. A computer registry keeps track of the available cord blood and shows all available matches for a given patient.
Public banks screen donors to rule out disorders or infections that could be passed to a recipient. A public bank will likely ask for a family medical history from you and your twins' father. You might need to provide a blood sample the day after you give birth. Your babies will not need to give blood samples.
Public banks do not charge a fee to collect or store cord blood.
Private banks keep cord blood cells in reserve in case your twins or other family member needs it. Private banks generally charge $1,000 to $2,000 to collect cord blood at the time of delivery, and then charge a yearly storage fee of about $100.
Choosing a Cord Blood Bank
If you decide to donate cord blood to a public bank, ask the hospital or birthing center if it works with a cord blood bank. If not, the National Marrow Donor Program (marrow.org) has a list of registered cord blood banks in each state.
If you want to use a private blood bank, look into the following information to find a facility. Your doctor may have information on private cord blood banks in your area.
- Financial Stability – Is the facility likely to stay in business?
- Policies – What will happen to your cord blood if the facility goes out of business?
- Practices – Does the facility process a large number of cord blood samples? Large banks are more likely to have good quality control.
- Options – What will happen if you choose to change facilities or if you move?
- Cost – Can you afford the fees for up-front collection and yearly storage? Will the storage fees increase over time?