Cord Blood Banking
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What is cord blood banking?
Cord blood banking is when your baby's umbilical cord blood is collected and stored after delivery. Cord blood is what's left inside your baby's umbilical cord after it's cut. Your baby's umbilical cord is clamped and cut shortly after birth. The umbilical cord connects your baby to the placenta. The placenta grows in your womb (uterus) and supplies your baby with food and oxygen.
Umbilical cord blood is rich in stem cells. Stem cells are valuable because they help treat many life-threatening diseases. For most healthy people, making stem cells isn't a problem. Unfortunately, some people don't make enough healthy stem cells due to a severe medical condition or disease. The stem cells from cord blood can be lifesaving for these people. Cord blood banks exist to collect and store these stem cells. Healthcare providers use cord blood stem cells for transplants in sick people or for medical research.
Cord blood banking is entirely optional. Some people choose to collect and store their baby's cord blood, and others do not. If you do not donate or store your baby's cord blood, it's thrown away with the placenta. Your healthcare provider will typically provide information about cord blood banking during a prenatal visit.
What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the blood left inside your baby's umbilical cord after delivery. It's similar to regular blood and contains red and white blood cells, platelets and plasma. It also contains a special type of stem cell found in bone marrow that can help strengthen the immune system. These cells are unique because they can mature or grow into different types of blood cells. Their ability to morph into other cells makes them valuable.
Stem cells help treat several diseases like leukemia, genetic disorders, diseases of the immune system and much more. Researchers have found cord blood is effective in treating up to 80 diseases.
What is cord blood banking used for?
Cord blood contains potentially lifesaving stem cells. People who need stem cell transplants benefit from your baby's cord blood. Once stem cells are transplanted into those individuals, they help make new, healthy cells. Stem cell transplants help people with:
- Cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.
- Bone marrow diseases requiring a transplant.
- Anemia like sickle cell disease.
- Certain immune system disorders.
Researchers are studying cord blood to see how it can help treat other life-threatening conditions like Parkinson's disease and diabetes.
How do they find a match for stem cells from cord blood?
Cord blood banks analyze and process the cord blood it receives. It assigns the blood certain characteristics. Everyone's blood and cells can be assigned characteristics. For stem cells to treat a disease, the characteristics from donated stem cells and the person receiving the stem cells needs to match. A match means these characteristics are similar. When a match is made, donated stem cells can help a sick person's immune system fight diseases.
If you decide to bank cord blood, the blood is processed and tested. It's then categorized so that the cord blood bank can find the best match when a sick person needs it.
What are the types of umbilical cord blood banking I can do?
There are two types of cord blood banks: public cord blood banks and private (or family) cord blood banks. They are different in a few ways.
Public cord blood banking
Think of public cord blood banks as large donation centers. You are giving away your baby's cord blood so it can be used to help save a stranger's life. Most healthcare providers encourage you to donate your cord blood to a public bank because it helps others at no risk to you. Thousands of people seek stem cell donations each year. The stem cells in public banks can be used by anyone who matches.
Some details about public cord blood banks include:
- It's free if your hospital is trained to collect cord blood and works with a public cord blood bank.
- The cord blood is donated to someone who needs it or for medical research.
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all public cord blood banks to ensure it's collected and stored according to certain safety standards.
- It's anonymous. No one knows the cord blood is from your baby.
- There are eligibility requirements, so not everyone can donate.
Private cord blood banking
You can store your baby's cord blood in a private blood bank. This ensures that only your family can use it. Private blood banks are helpful for families with a history of health conditions that can be treated with stem cells. It's also beneficial if you have a family member currently needing a stem cell transplant.
Other details about public cord blood banks include:
- You’ll pay an initial collection fee and then annual storage fees. Initial collection fees can cost thousands of dollars. Annual storage fees can cost several hundred dollars.
- You own your cord blood. Only your family can use it.
- The chances of needing to use cord blood are very low. In fact, your child usually can't use their own cord blood.
- The FDA doesn't regulate private cord blood banks.
Some people think private storage offers them protection for if their baby were to get sick. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. The chances that your child can use their own cord blood is quite low. Most healthcare providers only encourage storing your baby's cord blood with a private bank if a sibling with a congenital condition could benefit from stem cells. Because your chances of ever needing this cord blood are small, most privately-banked cord blood gets thrown away.
When do I need to decide about cord blood banking?
Every hospital is different, but you should decide before 34 weeks of pregnancy. Not every hospital has cord blood collection kits available and some cord blood banks have to send kits to the hospital each time. You will also need to fill out a consent form before collection and answer several questions about your health history. Additionally, private banks will ask you to pay the collection fee before your baby is born.
How is cord blood collected?
If you decide to store your baby's cord blood, your healthcare provider will collect it right after they clamp and cut the umbilical cord. A needle is inserted into the cord to extract the blood. The blood is then put into a collection bag. The cord blood collection process is harmless and safe for both you and your baby. The entire process takes just a few minutes. Your provider sends it to the cord blood bank for you.
How is cord blood stored?
Your healthcare provider sends the cord blood to the cord blood bank for you. The blood is processed and typed. It's also screened for diseases or other disorders to make sure it's safe to use. If the blood is acceptable for use, it's cryogenically frozen. Then, the cord blood bank stores it until they find a suitable match.
Is cord blood banking free?
It's free only if you are banking your cord blood at a public bank. Unfortunately, not every hospital collects cord blood for public banks. And even then, there's no guarantee it's absolutely free. Check with your healthcare provider to ensure they can collect cord blood at no cost to you.
Risks / Benefits
Why should I bank umbilical cord blood?
There are several advantages of banking cord blood. The most common reasons parents choose cord banking are:
- Your baby's cord blood could be used by someone who needs a stem cell transplant to save their life.
- Private blood banking can help someone in your family if they need a stem cell transplant.
- Banking cord blood doesn't affect you or your baby at all.
- It doesn't impact labor or delivery.
- Umbilical cord blood gets thrown away. There's no risk or harm in giving it to a public cord blood bank.
Donating to a public bank can help others. It increases the chances someone can find a match when they need it. Only certain hospitals can collect blood for public cord blood banks, so check with your provider to be sure.
If you decide to store your cord blood at a private bank, make sure you know all the costs associated with it. Private cord blood banking is useful if your baby has a biological sibling or family member that could benefit from cord blood. In most instances, your baby can’t use their own cord blood.
Can anyone donate cord blood?
No, there are restrictions on who can donate cord blood. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has a list of criteria that determines eligibility. You will submit information such as your age, known medical conditions and much more. Cord blood banks use these answers to determine if your baby's cord blood can be accepted. Some of the questions include:
- Are you older than 18?
- Are you having only one baby?
- Are you related to your birth partner?
- Does your baby have any congenital disorders that you're aware of?
- In the last 12 months, have you had tattoos or piercings where shared or non-sterile inks, needles or instruments were used?
- In the last 12 months, have you needed blood cell or transfusion support?
- Have you been exposed to hepatitis B or hepatitis C, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or tuberculosis?
- Have you used a needle to take a drug not prescribed by a physician in the last 12 months?
- Have you had chemotherapy?
Recovery and Outlook
Is my delivery affected by donating my baby's cord blood?
No, your delivery isn't affected by donating cord blood in any way. You can bank cord blood if you have a vaginal or cesarean delivery (C-section). Your baby isn't harmed in any way during cord blood collection because no blood is taken directly from them. However, your healthcare provider must know weeks ahead of time if you're donating cord blood.
When to Call the Doctor
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider about cord blood banking?
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions about public vs. private cord blood banking or about the procedure in general. They can provide more information to you and help you make a decision.
Can I keep the umbilical cord if I bank cord blood?
Yes. If you donate cord blood, your baby will still have a small section of their umbilical cord attached to their belly button (navel). This "stump" dries up and falls out on its own between five and 15 days after birth. Some parents keep this piece of the umbilical cord as a keepsake.
Is it worth it to bank cord blood?
Banking your baby's cord blood is a personal decision. You may decide the expense of storing your baby's cord blood in a private bank makes sense for your family. Or you may decide cord blood banking is a great way to pay it forward and help someone else. Either way, only you and your family can decide what's best. Keep in mind that umbilical cord blood that isn't stored or donated gets thrown away.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cord blood banking can help someone, including someone in your immediate family, in need of stem cells. Stem cells can be found in your baby's cord blood. Stem cells from cord blood have been shown to help treat many life-threatening conditions like cancer. Research is still being done to determine the benefits of cord blood banking and what diseases it can help treat. Deciding on what to do with your baby's cord blood is a personal choice. Your healthcare provider can help answer any questions you have and help you make the decision that’s best for you.
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