Understanding Cord Blood Banking

Storing cord blood and the stem cells within it offers an opportunity unheard of half a century ago. The fear of fatal diseases sometimes overcome the joy of a new child’s arrival — particularly for families with a genetic history of these diseases.

Cord blood banking is a way of ensuring the stem-cell rich blood is ready and waiting in the event of a variety of illnesses. Even families who don’t wish to store cord blood for their own use can donate it to allow for further research and more effective cures. Here’s a look at what cord blood is, how cord blood banking works, and who needs it. 

What’s cord blood?

Cord blood is the blood remaining within the umbilical cord once a child is born. Both umbilical cord and placental blood are filled with stem cells and healthy blood, left over from their role in the development of the fetus. In addition to stem cells, cord blood contains platelets, red blood cells, white blood cells, and plasma — effectively a DNA blueprint of the newborn that remains a perfect match through life.

In many cases, this blood can provide a close enough match for siblings, as well. Cord blood in particular is an exceptional source of stem cells, with attributes that cannot be found in other sources. 

What’s cord blood banking?

To remain effective, cord blood must be properly treated and cryogenically frozen. Cord blood banks are available for private storage, at a fee, and for public storage, which involves donating the cord blood to be used to help other children.

In many cases, the biggest obstacle of gaining access to such a bank is the hospital you give birth in — not all hospitals work with every blood banks. Many public storage banks in particular only accept samples from hospitals in large areas with a diverse population. 

What’s the difference between private and public banking?

Private cord blood banks are available across the country to treat and store gathered umbilical and placental cord blood. These samples are then set aside for the potential need of those stem cells to treat certain diseases, such as Tay Sachs disease or sickle cell anemia. These banks require an initial payment, followed by yearly installments. 

Families who cannot afford the expense of cord blood banking may choose public donation, allowing the birth of their own child to potentially save someone else’s life or further cord blood stem cell research. Cord Blood Registry offers more information about cord blood banks and how to donate. In either case, the decision must be made by the 34th week of gestation for most organizations. 

Should I store my newborn’s cord blood?

While saving cord blood can be beneficial for research and potential personal reasons, it also has its drawbacks. For most families, that disadvantage is cost. For this reason, most experts recommend privately storing cord blood only if prenatal testing, previous births, or genetic history indicates your child is at risk for one of the dozens of diseases cord blood can treat. However, this is no reason not to donate that same cord blood. For more in-depth information about banking cord blood, check out A Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood. 

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