What is umbilical cord blood?
Cord blood is the
blood left in the
umbilical cord after birth. It contains stem cells.
These cells have the amazing ability to grow into many different kinds of
cells, like bone marrow cells, blood cells, or brain cells. This can make them
valuable for treating some diseases.
Diseases that can be treated
with stem cell transplants include leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, and some types
of anemia. When healthy stem cells are transplanted into a child who is ill,
those cells can grow new
bone marrow cells to replace the ones destroyed by the
disease or its treatment. Stem cells from the child's own cord blood often
cannot be used, because they may have led to the disease in the first
Much research is being done to see if stem cells can be
used to treat more problems. For now, though, treatment is limited to diseases
that affect blood cells.
Banked cord blood is usually used to
treat disease in a brother or sister. Cord blood stem cells are rarely used to
treat adults, who normally need more stem cells than cord blood has.
What is cord blood banking?
The umbilical cord is
usually thrown away after birth. But the blood inside the cord can be saved, or
banked, for possible later use. The blood is drawn from the umbilical cord
after the cord has been clamped and cut. Cord blood banks freeze the cord blood
During your pregnancy, you may get ads or brochures
from cord blood banks. Some of them suggest that parents should save the cord
blood in case the baby should one day need a stem cell transplant. Be wary of
banks that urge cord blood banking for this reason. It is not known how likely
a child is to need a transplant of his or her own cells, but experts say the
chances are very small.1
blood banks have collected hundreds of thousands of cord blood units. But the
blood has been used in only a small number of transplants.2 Most transplants of cord blood stem cells use cord blood
donated by others to public banks.
One reason why donations are so
valuable is that stem cells from cord blood do not need to be as perfectly
matched for a transplant as do stem cells from adult bone marrow. Stem cells
from cord blood are not as mature, so the transplant patient's body is much
less likely to reject them.
What are the risks of cord blood banking?
Collecting a baby’s cord blood is quick and painless. But it does have a
small risk. The umbilical cord must not be clamped and cut too soon. Clamping
as soon as possible increases how much blood is collected. But if it is done
too quickly, it could cause the baby to have less blood. This could lead to
It is very unlikely that anyone in your family will ever
need your baby's cord blood. The exception is the very few families who already
have a child with an illness that could be treated with cord blood from a baby
brother or sister.1
It costs money to
store your baby’s cord blood. Banks charge $1,100 to $1,750 to start. Then you
must pay yearly storage fees for as long as the blood is stored. The storage
fees run from $115 to $125 a year. Health plans usually do not cover these
costs. Only you can decide if the expense makes sense for you and your family.
Other uses for the money-such as saving for college or paying for health
insurance for your baby-might be better for you.
that the advertising done by cord blood banks may make some parents feel guilty
if they do not want or cannot pay to store their baby’s cord blood. Pregnancy
and childbirth are emotional times, so learn all you can ahead of time. Don't
base your decision on guilt.
What other things should I consider?
Academy of Pediatrics says banking cord blood without a medical reason is not
wise. The academy recommends that you consider it only if a family member has a
disease that could be treated with a stem cell transplant.3
Some banks will waive their fees for families
who need the stem cells right away.
If you bank your baby's cord
blood, it will be tested for genetic and infectious diseases. What you learn
from a genetic test can affect your life and that of your family in many ways.
- Learning that your child is likely to develop
a serious disease can be scary or depressing. This information may also affect
your relationships with other family members.
- If your child tests
positive for a disease-specific gene, you may decide to use treatment, if
available, to prevent the disease or to reduce its impact or severity. Although
many treatments are effective, others may be potentially dangerous or of
- Many people worry that genetic information
released to insurance companies may affect future employment options or the
cost or availability of insurance.
Private banking: If you decide to
bank your baby's cord blood, make sure that the blood bank you use is
accredited by a reputable regulatory agency, such as the American Association
of Blood Banks. Look for a bank that has tested and stored many cord blood
samples and whose samples have been used successfully in transplants. Ask for a
copy of the bank's policies and procedures.
Donating cord blood: You may decide that you would like to
donate your baby’s cord blood. Donating makes the stem cells available to
others. It does not cost anything. Unfortunately, it is not yet an option in
many communities. Contact the hospital where you plan to give birth to find out
if you can donate cord blood there.