Umbilical cord blood – the blood exchanged between your baby and the placenta – is an amazing substance. In addition to keeping the fetus and baby alive through gestation, labor and delivery, the blood pumping through that tough, fibrous cord is rich with stem cells, carrying precious genetic information specific to both your baby and his/her biological family members.
As the cryogenic movement moved forward – largely due to innovative fertility treatments – medical experts realized that banking a baby’s cord blood offered a way to provide invaluable treatment options in the future. The stem cells in cord blood are exact matches for the baby they came from, and are typically close matches for siblings and other biological family members. There’s also a chance the stem cells are a match for an unrelated person, who needs them for a lifesaving medical treatment.
Should you determine you’re interested in banking (or donating) your baby’s cord blood, it’s important to inform the birthing team and to establish a relationship with a reputable cord blood bank sooner rather than later. In almost all cases, the mother must be screened and have all paperwork signed by the 34th week of pregnancy or it might not be possible to bank or donate your baby’s cord blood.
Keep in mind that banking or donating umbilical cord means you will have to forgo any decision you might have made about delaying the umbilical cord cut. The American Congress for Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) finds that, “delayed umbilical cord clamping appears to be beneficial for term and preterm infants,” so it is worth weighing your options and discussing the pros and cons of each with your birthing team.
The relationship between cord blood and stem cells
The stem cells present in the umbilical cord blood are unique because they can become a range of different types of cells, most commonly blood or immune system cells.
As a result, stem cells can be used to treat more than 80 different types of medical conditions, including:
- Conditions preceding leukemia, including serious anemias
- Sickle cell anemia
- Multiple blood, genetic and/or immunological disorders
Treatments for these types of diseases are more effective when generated using stem cells that are a close genetic match.
How do you bank cord blood?
As we mentioned above, the first step is to decide 100% that you want to bank or donate the umbilical cord blood. If you do, the next step is to find a reputable cord blood banking organization and reach out to them to begin the process. It’s important that you’ve gone through the appropriate screening and medical history reviews, and to have your consent form signed and filed by the time you’re 34-weeks pregnant.
When your baby is born, the OB or midwife will collect the blood from the cord via a syringe or by suspending the cord and allowing the blood to flow into a bag. The sample is labeled with a special code that identifies it as belonging to your baby, and the sample must be picked up and stored properly by the cord blood bank or their representative within 15 minutes, and fully processed within 48-hours. This process typically takes place using a third-party courier and it commences when you contact the blood bank as per their instructions.
If you are banking the blood for family use, you will pay a one time fee (typically between $1000 and $2400) to get the process started, and then an annual storage fee of $150 – $200 per year. Most banks offer discounted, pre-pay options for specific time ranges (5 years, 10 years, 20 years, etc.). The blood will be frozen and saved specifically for your child and/or family members, and it cannot be accessed or used without your permission.
When choosing a blood bank for private cord blood banking, pay very careful attention to what happens if/when you choose to terminate the contract. For example, let’s say you bank cord blood for 15 years, and then decide your healthy child and family could use that money for the college fund – you may find you signed away certain rights (including the stem cells and DNA information contained in the sample) in your initial contract. Do your homework and read all the fine print before making a final choice regarding your cord blood bank.
You can also donate your baby’s cord blood
As you can imagine, there is a high demand for publicly donated cord blood because family members are not always a good match or not always able to supply what is needed for a particular treatment. In these cases, healthcare professionals begin to look for good matches elsewhere, including public cord blood banks.
Because stem cells have such healing potential, public grants and private financial donors make it possible for interested parties to donate their baby’s cord blood for free. This donor blood goes into the public blood bank. Personal information remains completely confidential, but important markers and profile information is recorded in the files. If a person requiring treatment is a match for a donor’s cord blood, that sample will be accessed and the relevant treatment will be generated accordingly.
While we don’t have an opinion either way when it comes to storing or donating cord blood samples, we can say that the larger the public donor coffers grow, the more opportunity there is to heal and save others. Since there is no pain or sacrifice involved, it seems like a small price to pay if you aren’t planning to intentionally delay the umbilical cord cutting.
Are you interested in banking or donating your baby’s umbilical cord blood? Feel free to contact us here at Overlake and we’ll be happy to discuss your options, and recommend cord blood banks we’ve worked with in the past.