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 lifesaving 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 baby's birth, a nurse or doctor will collect the cord blood and a segment of the cord and 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 your child or another family member develops the condition. Or you may choose to bank cord blood just in case your child 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 2500, though some experts think it is even less useful than that.
Stem cells from cord blood can be used to treat some diseases. If your child is born with a genetic disorder, the cord blood likely contains the same code that caused the problem in the first place. It cannot be used to treat your child, or any other person. Cord blood cells from a healthy infant can be used to treat an ill child, as long as the two are a good match.
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 more than one birth. 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 both you and your baby's father. You might need to provide a blood sample the day after you give birth. Your baby will not need to give a blood sample.
Public banks do not charge a fee to collect or store cord blood.
Private banks keep cord blood cells in reserve in case your child 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? (Most facilities are not located locally, so if you move, you do not need to also move your cord blood.)
- Cost: Can you afford the fees for up-front collection and yearly storage?
- Will the storage fees will increase over time?