When you are pregnant and go to that first prenatal visit, you might find yourself leaving with a stack of pamphlets with lots of info you’ve never thought about or maybe even heard of. While it can feel overwhelming or confusing in the moment, take the time to learn about some of the optional services available. Optional services are not services you have to say yes to, but they are things that you might decide are a good fit for your family! One such optional service is cord blood banking.
Cord blood banking refers to the storage of a newborn’s umbilical cord blood cells. Cord blood is rich with stem cells that can be used to help treat serious diseases.
Cord blood can be saved and stored for long periods of time, and these cells can be used for treatments in the future. Since the cord blood cells are kept in controlled containers, they are viable for decades and remain active and healthy after years of storage. The oldest known cord blood unit has been in storage for several decades – the cells show no signs of aging and are still potent enough for a successful transplant.
After a child is born, blood remains in their umbilical cord, even after the placenta has been delivered and discarded as medical waste. Instead, this cord blood can be collected after delivery. If parents are storing the cord blood for future personal use or donating their child’s cord blood to a public cord blood bank, the doctor collects any remaining umbilical cord blood after delivery of the baby. This can be done after a vaginal or cesarean delivery.
When parents make the decision to bank their baby’s cord blood, they have to choose between two main banking options:
Private banks, or family banks, store cord blood for the child’s family – only the parents and child will have access to the cord blood cells and have control over how it is used. If a close relative, like a sibling or cousin, needs a transplant, the family may choose to use their privately stored cells for treatment.
Public banks are available for cord blood donations and will use stem cells from the cord blood for research and future treatments. The only downside to public banking is the risk that if you donate your child’s cord blood, he/she may not have access to their cord blood cells in the future, since any patient in need of donated cord blood cells can receive them for a transplant.
Over the past 20 years, researchers have started collecting cells from cord blood and using them in transplants. Cord blood transplants treat over 80 diseases, and new therapies are emerging every year.
If an expectant parent meets the qualifications for donation, they can contact a public cord blood bank to the receive necessary paperwork. Any information is stored in a national database and is not available for public viewing. The parent can then have a kit sent to them by the bank to take with them to the hospital at the time of delivery.
You will want to notify the hospital that you are donating cord blood. The cord blood will be collected after the umbilical cord is cut. This process is painless, safe and will not interfere with your first interaction with your baby. The kit sent to you will have very explicit, easy to follow instructions.
Your child’s cord blood will be tested for contamination and to ensure your baby is healthy, then will be listed on a national registry. The stem cells will then be cryogenically frozen until they are needed to treat a patient. You may receive updates on your donation after birth but it usually depends on the procedures of the bank.
To learn more about donor cord blood banking go to Be the Match!
The cord blood can also be stored for use by your own family. This gives your family members access to life-saving stem cells if ever needed in the future for medical treatment. The child who provided the cord blood, their siblings and close relatives can all potentially benefit from stored cord blood. The process of banking cord blood for your family is essentially the same as donating cord blood. The main difference is that you will need to contact a company that will send you a kit and then store the cord blood for your family. There is a fee for both the kit, and analysis and storage of the cord blood.
Two companies that I endorse are:
Cord blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, plasma, and stem cells. The cord stem cells are similar to the stem cells found in an adult’s bone marrow; however, the youth of the cells makes them able to replicate for a longer period of time. These young stem cells are able to differentiate (change into other cells) and replicate making cord blood stem cells the ideal choice for transplantation and disease treatment.
Over the past two decades, cord blood has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of over 80 diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma and anemia. Cord blood can be used in treating nearly 80 diseases, including a wide range of cancers, metabolic disorders, immune and blood-related diseases, genetic diseases, and blood disorders. With a cord blood transplant, the stem cells are infused into the patient’s bloodstream where they are used to treat these medical conditions.
For these reasons, and because i conceived via donor egg, I chose to do cord blood banking for my twins, and I encourage others to strongly consider it for their family as well. It is a decision you need to make before the day of delivery.
Regardless of whether you choose to donate your child’s cord blood to a public bank or store it at a private facility, these procedures can be expensive. Even donations, which are free for eligible mothers, cost public banks thousands of dollars for collection, transportation and storage.
Here are two important things to remember about cord blood banking costs:
Public banking is free, but using the umbilical cord blood cells in a transplant costs money. Since this is a medical procedure, it’s usually covered by health insurance. However, cord blood stored in a public bank is available to everyone, so there’s no guarantee the donating family will be able to use the cord blood cells they donated. Public cord banking supported by both federal and private funding.
Private cord blood banking costs money upfront and additional payments are due every year for storage. While this is more expensive, only your family has access to the cords blood cells, so you can always use them for medical treatments in the future if necessary. According to Forbes Health, On average, parents who go the private cord blood banking route spend between $300 and $2,300 for collection, processing and initial storage, paying additional annual storage fees after that additional storage tissue, such as placental tissue or umbilical cord tissue, can cost even more, adding an additional $800 to $1,300 a year, on average.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists makes the following recommendations regarding umbilical cord blood banking:
In this interview with genetic counselor, Michelle McDougal of Cord Blood Registry, we discuss what cord blood banking is and why it might be the right decision for you.
Shannon M. Clark, MD, MMS is a double board certified ObGyn and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist, and founder of Babies After 35. In her roles as a clinician, educator and researcher at UTMB-Galveston, she focuses on the care of people with maternal and/or fetal complications of pregnancy. Dr. Clark has taken a special interest in pregnancy after the age of 35, which according to age alone, is considered a high-risk pregnancy.
Follow Shannon on TikTok @tiktokbabydoc, Facebook @babiesafter35, and Instagram @babiesafter35.
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