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Cord Blood Banking

By Jeannette Moninger
WebMD Feature

Are you considering storing your baby’s your cord blood? Or donating it to a bank? Here are a few things to know.

Why is cord blood important?

Cord blood is rich in stem cells, which can be used in place of bone marrow stem cells to treat more than 80 life-threatening diseases. “Cord blood transplants are increasingly needed to save the lives of infants and young children with severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID), malignancies, and blood disorders,” says William Shearer, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics and immunology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. 

Sometimes, donated cord blood is used by researchers to develop and test new medical treatments.

What’s the difference between public and private cord blood banking?

Public banks collect donated cord blood for free and store it anonymously for public use. But there’s no guarantee that you will be able to use your baby’s donated cord blood if someone in your family develops a disease that requires a stem cell transplant. It may already have been transplanted, used in research, or discarded (this can happen if the collection amount is too small).

Private banks, also called family banks, charge a fee to store cord blood for a family’s exclusive personal use. Fees for the initial processing and storage of private cord blood banking range from $1,300 to $2,200. There is also an annual fee. 

The odds that a child will need to use her own stem cells for a transplant are 1 in 5,000. There is a much greater likelihood (1 in 2,500) that a child will need donated stem cells. You can’t necessarily count on using the blood for a family member either. There’s a 25% chance that a child’s cord blood will be a perfect match for a sibling, but there’s an equal chance that the blood won’t match at all.

It’s even less likely that a parent or other adult will be able to use the cord blood because most units don’t have enough cells to be of use to larger patients.

For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly favors donating cord blood to public banks instead of storing it for private use. “Many privately banked units are never used,” Shearer says.

How is cord blood collected?

Whether you want to donate or privately store your child’s cord blood, you must plan ahead to ensure that your doctor and hospital are prepared to collect it and that a collection kit is available during your delivery. 

Most public cord blood banks require that parents complete registration between the 28th and 34th weeks of pregnancy. Moms who are donating also must pass a health history test. 

Both donated and private-use cord blood can be collected either before or after the placenta is delivered. After your baby’s umbilical cord has been cut and clamped, your doctor or nurse will insert a small needle into the discarded umbilical vein and draw out the blood. A courier then takes the blood to the blood bank. There, stem cells are separated from the rest of the blood and then stored frozen in liquid nitrogen.

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