Should you bank your baby’s cord blood?

Cord blood banking is the new buzzword amongst parents-to-be, but what does it involve and is it right for your family? We tell you everything you need to know.

From painting the nursery to finding a pediatrician, your to-do list is growing faster than your belly. So, when your pregnant friend mentioned cord blood banking over coffee, you immediately filed it under “Non-essential info… PLEASE DELETE” in your brain. But what if we told you that banking your baby’s cord blood could save lives – maybe even a family member’s? Here’s everything you need to know about cord blood banking to make an informed decision about whether it’s right for you.

What is cord blood?

Cord blood is the blood that’s left in the umbilical cord and placenta after the cord is cut. It contains two types of cells, hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPC) and hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). Because HSCs can develop into different types of blood cells, they can be used to treat more than 80 diseases, including immune system, neurological and genetic disorders, as well as several types of cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma.

HSCs are also being used in clinical trials in hopes of developing treatments for a range of conditions, including congenital heart defects, autism, cerebral palsy and type 1 diabetes.

What is cord blood banking?

Soon after a baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut as with any other birth. But instead of simply throwing out the cord, the blood that remains inside it is removed and stored for future use. Stem cells from cord blood can be frozen for many years – the oldest known sample is 23 years old and still in good condition.

Cord blood contains similar stem cells to those found in bone marrow, but they can be given to more people, they’re less likely to be rejected and they don’t need to be used immediately after they’re collected. And while a bone marrow transplant can be risky and painful for the donor, cord blood collection is completely painless and risk-free for both mother and baby.

How does a cord blood transplant work?

When a good match is found between a donor and a recipient, the collected cells are administered to the recipient. They soon start to generate new cells and create new blood within the patient’s body, repairing damage and speeding up their recovery. Cord blood cells multiply at a faster rate and are more adaptable than other stem cells, and they move naturally to damaged areas. 

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

Private cord blood banking involves paying to store your baby’s cord blood for their own future use or for use by a family member. This is a great option if you have a family member who suffers from a disease that can be treated with stem cells as your child’s cells may be more compatible than a stranger’s. But it’s important to understand that if your child were to be diagnosed with a genetic disease or cancer, they probably couldn’t be treated with their own stem cells because the cells could contain the same genes that caused the disease.

That’s not to say that your child would never be able to use their own cord blood. With a wide range of clinical trials currently underway using a child’s own cord blood stem cells to treat a range of conditions – including cerebral palsy, autism, hydrocephaly (fluid on the brain), brain injury, congenital heart defects and type 1 diabetes – it might not be long before therapies involving a person’s own cord blood are widely available.

When choosing a private bank, make sure they’re accredited with the American Association of Blood Banks and don’t be shy to ask questions about their collection and storage methods, as well as their success rates in obtaining usable samples.

With public cord blood banking, you donate your child’s cord blood to a public bank, where it will be given to anyone in need or used for medical research. Most hospitals partner with a specific public bank, but if yours doesn’t, check the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation’s website for a full list of public banks in your area.

You’ll need to meet certain eligibility requirements and sign a consent form waiving all your rights to your baby’s cord blood. Once your cord blood has been collected, it will be listed on the national Be The Match registry, where doctors can search for matches for their patients.

Most banks require women to sign up for cord blood banking between the 28th and 34th week of pregnancy (though some private banks are more flexible), so talk to your doctor about donating during your second trimester.

How much does it cost?

Private banks charge anywhere between $1000 and $3000 as an initial collection and processing fee. After that, you’ll have to pay an annual storage fee ranging from $100 to $200. Some private banks offer discounts if you pay upfront for 20 years of storage.

If you have a family member who has a serious disease that can be treated with cord blood, you may be eligible for a charity program through a private bank, in which case all fees would be waived. Talk to your doctor about your eligibility for a charity program.

Public banking is free for the donor with the bank covering all the collection and storage costs.