Cord blood banking is an option for parents who want to preserve the blood of the umbilical cord and placenta of their baby as "insurance" to help with possible future medical needs of their child. It can also be used for other biologically matched children, either in their own family or the general public.
Cord blood, found in the umbilical cord and placenta, is rich in stem cells. These cells have the amazing potential to grow into many types of cells. Scientists believe that these cells can play a role in healing a variety of diseases, including cancer. The only time that you can put these cord stem cells into storage is right after birth. Stem cells are found in parts of the body, such as the blood and bone marrow, but they are much more difficult to collect.
Deciding to save cord blood is a personal decision. Many people do it because the cells in cord blood are a perfect match to that baby and could be used to help him or her survive a serious health threat, such as immune system disorders or problems with metabolism. Some experts believe that the chance that any given child will need his or her own cord blood stem cells is about one in 2,700.
Stem cells cannot be used to treat a genetic disease—one that your child is born with—because they carry the same genes that caused the disease. They also can't be used to treat your child if he or she develops leukemia. But the cells can be used to help treat a biological "match"—another youngster who has similar biological qualities and needs stem cells.
Cord blood collection is quick and painless. After the baby is delivered, your doctor will close off the umbilical cord using a clamp. Then, using a needle, the doctor will draw out the blood into a sterile bag, which will be sealed before the placenta is delivered; sometimes the cord is simply tilted to let the blood drain into a bag. Between one-half and one cup of stem cell-rich cord blood can be collected. This must be done within 15 minutes of birth.
In some instances, it's not possible to get enough cord blood, such as when a baby is premature or when twins shared a placenta. Certain infections may rule out cord blood collection as well.
Depending on the policies of your hospital and your health insurance, a collection fee may be involved. Check in advance to find out whether there are any charges you will have to cover.
After collection, the blood is sent to the facility of your choice, where it will be processed and then frozen in storage. No one is certain how long cord blood lasts, but some experts believe it can be stored for 21 years or more.
You have two options for storing cord blood: public storage or private storage. These storage spaces are referred to as "banks." The facility you choose should be accredited through the American Association of Blood Banks.
Storing cord blood in a public bank is free. But like a blood bank, the facility makes your stored cord blood available to other children who are biological matches.
Storing cord blood in a private bank means that the cord blood will be available to your family only. This type of storage requires both an initial fee and annual storage fees. The initial fee could be as high as $2,000, with annual storage fees up to $100. Make sure you understand all the fees involved in private storage. Also, find out what would happen if the bank were to go out of business.