Should I Bank the Cord Blood?

Dear Mamas,

I’m a 40 y.o. first-time single mom, and my OB/GYN is recommending that I bank my baby’s cord blood when I deliver. I have some concerns about privacy and don’t know how I feel about my child’s blood sitting in a lab somewhere available to just anyone.

What are the pros and cons?

Miriam

Hi Miriam,

We’re glad you asked, since moms everywhere are being faced with this question and may not have the information they need to make a comfortable decision.

First, a little background:  After your baby is delivered, the placenta, along with the maternal end of the umbilical cord, will come away from the wall of the uterus.  Until recently, the umbilical cord and placenta were tossed after birth without a second thought. But in the last 30 years researchers discovered that umbilical cord blood could supply the same kinds of blood-forming stem cells as a bone marrow donor, and umbilical cord blood began to be collected and stored.

Cord blood stem cells have the potential to give rise to the 3 main types of blood cells (white cells, red cells, and platelets) as well as, perhaps, other cell types in the body. Therefore, they can be used to provide treatment for your child (or someone else) in the case of  serious illness, including some cancers, in the future.

Collection of the cord blood takes place shortly after birth using a specific kit that parents must order ahead of time from a cord blood bank. It is then taken by courier to the cord blood bank, where the sample is given an identifying number and the stem cells are frozen and stored . Then, if needed later, blood-forming stem cells can be thawed and used. Theoretically, stem cells should last forever, but since this research is only about 30 years old, we don’t know for sure.

The primary reason that parents consider banking their newborn’s cord blood is because they have a child with, or a close family history of, diseases that can be treated with bone marrow transplants, for example leukemia or immune system deficiencies. But recently more and more mothers are choosing to bank their newborn’s cord blood in anticipation of future medical advances and additional possible uses.

The expense of collecting and storing the cord blood can be a deciding factor for some. At a commercial cord blood bank, you’ll pay about $1,000-$2,000 to store a sample of cord blood, in addition to about $100 in yearly maintenance fees.

Some doctors and organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have expressed concern that cord blood banks may capitalize on the fears of vulnerable new parents. Others support saving umbilical cord blood as a source of blood-forming stem cells in every delivery – mainly because of the promise that stem-cell research holds for the future.

Cord blood banks are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has developed standards regulating cord blood collection and storage. As far as privacy is concerned, they are covered under an area of the law known as HIPAA regulations, so while they will collect information about the mother’s medical history, they are prohibited by law from releasing it.

With few exceptions, an individual’s health care information can be used for health purposes only. Under HIPAA there are specific federal penalties if a patient’s privacy is violated. It is the cord blood bank’s responsibility to protect your information against misuse of any kind.

So the choice is yours. It’s a big decision, and one you only get a single shot at.

~ The Mamas

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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2 responses to “Should I Bank the Cord Blood?”

  1. PAV

    I think what has not been mentioned here is that to store the cord you need to clamp it before it stops pulsating, and that prevents the blood from the placenta and cord to fully be delivered to the baby. If you clamp before the cord stops pulsating you don’t give this important nutrients to the baby and they may be needed now, in the present.

  2. Hillary

    I would agree with the author…this is a really big decision and the more information you can get the better. I’ve been trying to decide what to do with my upcoming baby and am still undecided, but I’ve done a ton of research and I can tell you that the more you know, the better off you are. It took me a while to track down some unbiased, and trustworthy information…here are a couple of my favorites. Hope you find them as useful as I did!

    Cord Blood Banking Guide – http://www.bankingcordblood.org
    Parents Guide to Cord Blood – http://www.parentsguidecordblood.org/

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