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Banking Your Baby's Cord Blood

The pros and cons, costs, and reasons behind saving your newborn's umbilical cord blood.

The Benefits of Collecting Cord Blood

Although both cord blood and bone marrow contain the same sort of HPC stem cells, those from cord blood may have some advantages. Cells from cord blood are less mature than cells from an adult's bone marrow, so a recipient's body is less likely to reject them.

"My personal feeling is that stem cells that come from an umbilical cord are going to be more robust than those you get from a 50-year old man," Feig tells WebMD.

Taking cord blood is also simple and painless. It's much less involved than bone marrow donation. And some experts say banking might be wise in certain cases.

For instance, Ecker says that if someone in your family already has leukemia, sickle cell anemia, or other blood disorders, banking could make sense, either for the child or for another family member.

"I don't think you'll get arguments from any doctor about the wisdom of banking if you have one of these diseases running in the family," Ecker tells WebMD. "Certainly not from me."

In some cases -- for instance, if you already have a child who is sick and might need a transplant -- some federal or state programs, or even insurance companies, might help pay the costs.

The Downsides of Banking Cord Blood

Privately banked cord blood does have some big limitations as a kind of health insurance policy. Even if your child does get sick, it may not be the right treatment.

"If a child develops certain genetic diseases, his or her own frozen cord blood isn't going to help," says Arthur Caplan, PhD, a bioethicist and chairman of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "The cord blood will have the same genetic flaws that caused the disease in the first place, so it won't be a good treatment."

While using your own stored blood has advantages - such as reducing the risk of rejection -- it has other disadvantages too, explains Feig. Introducing a new set of immune cells from a donor can sometimes be more effective in fighting certain cancers than getting more of the patient's own.

But what about saving your baby's cord blood for a family member who gets -- or already is -- sick? Siblings are more likely to be a genetic match, which is crucial. However, the odds are still only about 25%. So even if you bank your child's blood for a sibling, there's a 75% chance that he or she will need a donation from another donor's cells in a bank instead.

Cord blood is usually only used in treating diseases in children. Since only 3 to 5 ounces are taken from the cord, and since cord blood has a limited number of stem cells, there just isn't enough to treat most adults.

Expectant parents also need to understand that cord blood isn't the only possible treatment for these diseases. Most people who need a transplant of stem cells could still get them from donated bone marrow, either from a family member or a bone marrow bank.

"If your child becomes sick with leukemia, for instance, there are treatments besides using his or her own cord blood," says Ecker. "It's by no means his or her only hope."

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