With a new baby on the way, many expectant parents spend hours planning for their child’s future – from choosing an infant car seat to starting a 529 plan. It’s natural to focus on security and investments for the years to come.
Something else to consider during these nine months is whether or not you want to bank your baby’s cord blood.
WHAT IS CORD BLOOD?
Cord blood is the blood collected from the umbilical cord and placenta immediately after birth.
WHY IS CORD BLOOD DIFFERENT THAN ‘REGULAR’ BLOOD?
Cord blood is rich in stem cells, the nascent cells that still have the capacity to change – or grow – into other types of cells in the body.
You’re probably familiar with the political debate over stem cell research. If not, here’s a quick bullet list of the benefits of stem cells:
• Stem cells aid in the treatment of over 70 different blood disorders, genetic diseases, and cancers (such as leukemia, lymphoma and anemia).
• As the building blocks of the blood and immune system, they can help generate healthy new cells.
• In some medical applications, stem cells can be used instead of bone marrow.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF CORD BLOOD BANKING?
Many parents who opt to store their newborn’s cord blood in a private bank feel that they are investing in their child’s future health
No waiting. If the child needs treatment for a specific disease or disorder, he or she could receive it almost immediately; there’s no need to wait for a donor. Usually, finding a bone marrow donor can be difficult, especially with African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, or people of diverse ethnic backgrounds.
No risk of rejection. While it’s possible that a bone marrow transplant could be rejected by the body, your child’s body will not reject his/her own stem cells.
The match doesn’t need to be perfect.
Of course, you’ll have a 100% match for the child who banked the blood, but it’s also likely that other members of the family can benefit, since you can have a half-match and still be successful. (Banked cells have a 25% chance of being a perfect match for a sibling.)
PRIVATE VS. PUBLIC CORD BLOOD BANKING
Expectant parents can choose from either public or private cord blood banks.
If you decide to go public, the cord blood will be stored away for use by the general public. It can help a child in need or it can be used for stem cell research, which continues to grow and change all the time. Matching cord blood to patients in need is done through the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). Just know that once you donate (which is done anonymously), the blood will no longer be available to your family.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is a fan of public donation. They believe that private cord blood banks target parents during an emotionally vulnerable time in their life, and that parents shouldn’t store blood for private use simply as a general insurance policy. They also want parents to know “most conditions that might be helped by cord blood stem cells already exist in the infant’s cord blood and [therefore the blood] would not be used.”
Neonatologist Sheri Nemerofsky, MD, FAAP says, “Unless there is a specific indication for private cord banking, then public cord banking should seriously be considered. Public cord banking is free and there are no risks to the baby or the mother at the time of collection. However, not every hospital offers public cord banking. Most importantly, public donation gives you the opportunity to help change people’s lives.” Note: There is a great need for public donation for racially and ethnically diverse women.
However, the AAP does recommend private banking if the family has a medical history with genetic disorders or diseases. In that case, saving the blood could benefit another child in the family who might potentially need stem cell transplantation.
If you decide to go private, your baby’s cord blood will be stored away exclusively for your family. Private banking can give you peace of mind, and a sense of security, in the event of future illness.
When a history of genetic disease or inherited disorders in the family warrants such precautions, the price can be steep. Initial fees can run between $1,500 and $2000 and annual payments can run about $125. There might also be a courier fee to expedite delivery of your precious cargo to the lab.
NEXT STEPS FOR PRIVATE CORD BLOOD BANKING
Choosing a Private Cord Blood Bank
If you decide to go the private blood bank route, be sure to interview several banks. This will help you determine which facility is best for your family.
Here are some questions to ask:
• What are the processing and storing fees?
• Is the cost of shipping included?
• Is the bank financially stable?
• Do they have a payment plan?
• Can you switch banks if you choose to in the future?
• If it goes out of business, what happens to your stored blood?
• How long have they been banking blood?
• How many blood samples have they stored?
• Will you be notified when the bank receives and stores your baby’s blood?
• Do they process the blood or store it whole?
• Do they comply with national accreditation standards?
Once you choose a private cord blood bank, they will send you a collection kit, which you need to bring to the hospital when you go into labor.
Extracting the Sample & Getting it to the Lab
Right after the baby is born and the placenta is delivered, the umbilical cord is cut and the blood is extracted. Don’t worry, there’s no risk for either the mother or baby. Some banks require you to immediately call for a messenger or courier (a good job for dad). The kit is then whisked off to the lab where it will either be stored whole, or processed (removing the red blood cells), and then cryopreserved (frozen) – usually in liquid nitrogen.
Just like the many decisions you are already making for your baby, the choice to bank your baby’s cord blood is yours. Research options, talk to your doctor, discuss it with your partner, and make the decision that is right for you and your family.
In a nutshell:
• Cord blood is rich in stem cells.
• If needed in the future, your child will not reject his/her own stem cells.
• As opposed to public banks, private banks store blood for your family’s use only.
• Bring the collection kit to the hospital when you go into labor.