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Cord Blood Banking

Becoming a new parent is a daunting task.  There are a barrage of decisions to be made – choosing an obstetrician or midwife, home birth or hospital birth, genetic testing options, and of course whether or not to bank your baby’s cord blood.  In my experience, most expectant parents are the least familiar with cord blood banking option.

Cord blood banking means preserving the newborn stem cells found in the blood of the umbilical cord and the placenta. When a baby is delivered, even if clamping of the umbilical cord is delayed, there is still blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta that is rich in stem cells and has medical value.  The collection process is painless and can be collected without any risk to the baby or mother.

There are two types of banks – public and private.

Public banks store cord blood for patients in need of a transplant. Most donations are not useful for long-term treatments, and are discarded or used for research. While a donation can save a life, you may not retrieve stem cells for your family if you need them.  Family, or private, banks store cord blood for your use only. Parents own the cord blood until the baby turns 18. The child, a sibling, or another close family member may use stored cord blood when needed.

Why bank cord blood?  Banking a baby’s blood and stem cells in a cord blood bank is a type of insurance.  In a perfect world, you would never need to access your baby’s stem cells to address a medical concern, but using a private cord blood bank can provide peace of mine knowing that you have a valuable resource if you need it.

Cord blood is used for therapy today in hospitals around the world – mostly to treat leukemia and some inherited health disorders that require a bone marrow transplant.  The FDA has approved “cord blood” cell treatment in over 80 diseases, including blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. Cord blood stem cells have significantly less rejection than other forms of bone marrow transplants.  There are also clinical trials that use cord blood for both stem cell transplants and emerging therapies in regenerative medicine.  Right now, about 1 in 200 patients require cord blood in their lifetime – however, cord blood treatments are currently being researched for conditions like cerebral palsy and diabetes, which will make cord blood therapy more common in the next several years.  However, the stored blood can’t always be used.  Current research says the stored blood may only be used for 15 years.

Cord blood banking includes the whole process from collection through storage of newborn stem cells for future medical purposes. If needed for treatment, the cord blood bank will release the stem cells to your physician.

It’s up to you to decide what type of cord blood storage – public or private – to choose: It costs parents nothing to donate their cord blood to a public cord blood bank. Not all parents are eligible to donate and only the biggest donations are saved. The saved donations are listed on a registry that medical doctors can search on behalf of transplant patients.

There are usually two fees involved in private cord blood banking. The first is the initial fee that covers enrollment, collection, and storage for at least the first year. The second is an annual storage fee. Some facilities vary the initial fee based upon the length of a predetermined period of storage.

Depending on the predetermined period of storage, the initial fee can range from $900 to $2100. Annual storage fees after the initial storage fee are approximately $100. It is common for storage facilities to offer prepaid plans at a discount and payment plans to help make the initial storage a more attractive option for you and your family.  Make sure that the private bank that you choose is a member of the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB).

If you do decide to bank your baby’s cord blood, there’s one more thing to keep in mind: It’s best not to make it a last-minute decision. You should coordinate with the bank before your baby is born so nothing is left to chance.

Additional notes from Hello My Tribe: also see 7 things you should know about cord blood banking and learn about delayed cord clamping

Mary Claire Haver, MD

Dr. Mary Claire Haver Dr. Mary Claire Haver has been in private and academic practice in general OB/GYN since 2002. She is an Assistant Professor at UTMB in Galveston Texas, where she lives and is raising her two children with her husband Christopher Haver. She has been featured in Self Magazine, Pregnancy Magazine, and BabiesAfter35.