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If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, you may have heard about banking your baby’s umbilical cord blood. Why are some families choosing to do it? Is it worth it for your family?
Let’s review the answers to 5 common questions to help you decide.
In the past, umbilical cord blood would get discarded with the placenta after birth. Now some parents are preserving these potentially life-saving cells for possible future use. A cord blood transplant can replenish the blood supply with new, healthy cells to treat certain diseases or disorders. Unlike other stem cells (e.g., bone marrow), those in cord blood don’t have to be matched as closely to the patient and are less likely to reject the transfusion.
Umbilical blood stem cells have been used in stem cell transplants since 1988. To date, there had been 35,000 cord blood transplants worldwide. Ongoing clinical trials are taking place to test more ways stem cells can be used to treat certain medical conditions, including cerebral palsy, brain/spine injuries, autism, and type 1 diabetes.
Cord blood must be collected, processed and stored correctly to be usable. It’s also expensive if you store it with a private blood bank. Some experts believe the odds of ever using the stored cord blood are low and the benefits are too remote to justify the costs.
For instance, in many cases, if a child develops a genetic disease, his or her own cord blood can’t be used because precursors of their disease may be in the cord blood. In other words, for some blood cancers like leukemia, it is unlikely a patient’s own blood can be used as treatment since the blood stem cells have the same mutation that caused the disease.
However, if someone in your family (e.g., a sibling) has a blood disorder or other medical condition, banking could make sense. Private donation may be considered when a sibling has a known condition that could benefit from cord blood (siblings have about a 25 percent chance of being a match). In fact, you may be able to store your child’s cord blood for free if you have a family member in need of a transplant.
Cord blood is collected by your doctor right after birth. It’s a simple and painless process with no risk to mom or baby. After you’ve delivered your baby, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut as usual. Your doctor then drains the blood into a collection bag, which takes less than 10 minutes. The blood is shipped to a cord blood bank, where it’s tested, processed and preserved for long-term storage.
Your doctor will need to know ahead of time that you are planning to bank your baby’s umbilical cord blood. You’ll likely receive the storage kit in advance that you’ll need to bring to the hospital.
There are private blood banks, also known as family banks, which will store your baby’s umbilical cord blood for your family’s use only, for a fee. Prices vary, but most private banks usually charge an initial processing fee of about $1300 to $2,200, and an annual storage fee of about $125.
There is no cost to donate your baby’s cord blood to a public cord blood bank, which provide stem cells to anyone who needs them. Public banks participate in the National Cord Blood Inventory and are federally mandated. Most doctors and medical organizations favor public donation. Also, if your child ever needs the donated cord blood, there's a good chance the cells will still be available.
Deciding to bank your baby’s cord blood is a personal decision that each family must make for themselves. Keep in mind, you only get one chance to save your baby’s cord blood—and that’s right after birth. While the choice is yours, it has the potential to save a life.
Do you think you will bank your baby’s cord blood? We would love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments below.
Get more information about cord blood banking.
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