From the moment you hold your newborn in your arms, you are in love. In that first instant, as you take in your baby’s face the last thing you are thinking about is a future illness. Unfortunately, illness is a reality– and many parents are turning to their own newborns for a possible cure for some of these life-threatening conditions through the use of cord blood banking.
Umbilical cord blood is essentially the same as the rest of the blood in your baby’s body with one special exception—this blood, which remains in the cord and placenta once it has been cut at delivery is full of role-transforming stem cells. Stem cells are unique to each person and family and hold the ability to transform in to cells of many types throughout the body. Essential in the development of everything from blood cells to organs and fully body systems, stem cell hold the key to how the body functions and repairs itself.
Cord blood has been found useful in treating certain types of blood conditions like Leukemia, Lymphoma, and other types of immune diseases.1 Cord blood stem cells function much like a bone marrow transplant would—minus the high rejection rates. Cord blood may also be banked and used for siblings or parents should the need arise, because the genetic makeup is as close to a perfect match as you can get.
Because no parent knows if they will actually ever need the blood, many moms and dads view it as an insurance policy—a backup should the day arise when its role could save a life. But this little container of insurance may not be for everyone, so understanding the pros and cons can help you make the right decision for your baby, your family, and even your wallet.
Collecting cord blood is easy. Taking only a few seconds, blood from the already cut umbilical cord is pulled out with a needle or drained in to a container from the cut end of the cord that is still attached to the placenta. There’s no needle sticks or testing needed for your baby and no risk for mom either.
100% match not necessary. Cord blood, in contrast to bone marrow does not have to match perfectly with its recipient for use. Because of its flexibility, groups like the National Cord Blood Program estimate that 150,000 stored units of blood could acceptably match 80%-90% of those in need of transplantation in the United States. 1 Umbilical cord blood is also less likely to trigger Graft vs. Host Disease (GvHD) where the body recognizes the blood cells as foreign and attacks itself in an attempt to fight them off.
Always at the ready. Because cord blood is prepared properly and stored immediately, there’s no waiting when the time arrives. The blood can be used as soon as it is called for.
It can’t be used for everything. Umbilical cord blood isn’t a cure-all for every disease. You may consider banking only if there is a strong family history of a condition where its use would be helpful. Such as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Leukemia, or sickle cell disease.
Significant up-front expense. Cord blood banking isn’t cheap—but neither is your child’s life. To pay for the starter kit which will contain information on collection, labeling and sending the blood in, and the collection containers for your physician, parents can expect to pay between $900 and $2,100– with an additional $100 per year to store the blood for as long as you decide to. 2
It has to be shipped quickly. Once the blood is collected, the box must be shipped to the company’s laboratory and processed within 48 hours. When parents are consumed with their new baby it can be easy to forget that someone will need to make a trip to the post office.
If you decide not to bank blood for your baby, you may want to consider donating the blood to a bank that accepts cord blood. Cord blood donations can be beneficial to other families if the need arises. If you aren’t sure about where to donate your baby’s cord blood, groups like the National Marrow Donor Program will be able to point you to a facility in your area. 3
Making tough parenting decisions can start long before your baby is born. Cord blood has many benefits and still more variables that must be considered. If you need more information, talk with your doctor or an accredited cord blood banking center.