Decision Focus: Umbilical Cord Blood Banking


Expectant parents are bombarded with decisions to make during pregnancy. Will they have their baby screened for birth defects? Do they want to find out the sex of the baby before the birth? Does the mother want to have a natural birth or opt for pain relief? These days, moms- and dads-to-be can add yet another decision to the list: Will they store their baby’s umbilical cord blood? Here is some information that can help parents make an educated choice before their baby is born.

Why would we want to store or donate our baby’s cord blood?
Blood in your baby’s umbilical cord after birth contains special cells that can be used in transplants to treat certain types of leukemia or other blood diseases. Donating cord blood is a lot like regular blood donation. If you donate it to a public bank, your baby’s cord blood can help to save the life of someone who needs a stem cell transplant. Or it might be used for vital medical research.

How is cord blood collected?
After your baby is born and the umbilical cord is clamped, blood from it and the placenta are collected into a special kit. The process is painless and takes just a few minutes, and parents may not even be aware of it. Parents have to submit a form with the family medical history as well as a consent form. The blood is then sent for processing and storage at a public blood bank or private storage facility.

Should we bank privately or donate to a public bank?
Many parents choose to pay for private cord-blood banking “just in case” someone in the family might need it for medical treatment one day. Cord blood from another family member might be an ideal match.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages private cord-blood banking unless the baby’s full sibling already has a condition that might benefit from a cord-blood transplant.

Why? Many conditions for which cord blood may be used as a treatment are already present in the baby’s blood at birth. That means the cord blood would be useless to treat the baby. And if no one else in the baby’s family ever needs it, the cord blood at a private bank will go to waste. At a public bank, though, the baby’s cord blood can be matched to any person who might need a transplant. If a family member does need a stem-cell transplant later, he or she may be matched with a donor from the public bank.

What is the cost?
Donation to public cord-blood banks is free to parents, just like regular blood donation. Private banking of cord blood, though, can be very expensive. The initial fee, including some storage time, may be thousands of dollars. Annual storage fees after that first year or two may cost hundreds of dollars a year. Many parents see this as an “insurance policy” of sorts and consider it money well spent for peace of mind. However, they should be aware that scientists and doctors don’t yet know how long cord blood can be stored before it “expires” – regardless of whether it is banked publicly or privately.

Making the decision
If you’re not sure what you want to do, talk to your doctor about the options. He or she will be best able to answer your questions based on your family medical history.

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