Practical Parenting: Cord Blood Banking

Quite simply, cord blood banking is saving the blood found in the umbilical cord for future use.   Cord blood (and umbilical tissue) is rich in stem cells, which, despite their controversy, have very powerful help applications because of their regenerative abilities.   Cord blood is easier to match than bone marrow, meaning it can be given to a wider variety of people.  It is also considered “less invasive” than the typical bone marrow donation.

After birth, the cord is clamped and cut, severing the physical connection between mother and baby.  The blood that remains in the umbilical cord and the placenta, is normally discarded as medical waste, but if you choose to bank the cord blood, it will be extracted and transported to a cord blood bank.

At a PUBLIC cord blood bank, your baby’s blood will be identified by a number, tested for quality, and then cryopreserved (frozen).  Doctors search the bank for their patients and if your baby’s blood is a match, it will go toward helping that person.  Donating to a public bank is free.

At a PRIVATE blood bank, your baby’s blood will only be available to your family.  If you have another family member with a condition treatable with stem cells, you can set it aside for that purpose, but it will not be available for public use.  You pay for this exclusivity, usually around $1-2,000, and is not covered by insurance.  The Royal College of Obstetrics (RCOG) [1] , the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) [2], and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) [3] all recommend against PRIVATE cord blood banking — unless you have a family history of a genetic disorder.

Stem cell research is changing the face of medicine, and umbilical cord blood is contributing to that transformation.  Conditions we thought untreatable are now being healed, saving the lives of many, including children with terminal illnesses.  Cord blood is easier to match from donor to recipient than bone marrow, meaning that your baby’s blood has a greater chance of healing someone.  By donating your baby’s cord blood, you could save the life of another person, including your own family.  Much like donating blood or organs, donating cord blood is giving the generous and admirable gift of life.

But this gift of life comes with a price.  The donation of cord blood requires immediate cord clamping, a practice I investigated in a previous post.  By donating this amazing substance to someone else, you are depriving your baby of receiving it himself.  And this is some powerful stuff.  Who’s life is more valuable, and who does the cord blood help more?  That is the difficult decision in front of you.  Rationally speaking, unless you have someone specific in mind to which to donate the blood, it is probably more beneficial for your baby to receive it, and benefit from it’s miraculous health-boosting powers himself.

“The likelihood of using cord blood in private banks has rested mostly on the odds that the donor child or a family member will require a stem cell transplant. In the United States, the lifetime probability (up to age 70) that an individual will undergo an autologous transplant of their own stem cells is 1 in 435, the lifetime probability to undergo an allogeneic transplant of stem cells from a donor (such as a sibling) is 1 in 400, and the overall odds of undergoing any stem cell transplant is 1 in 217.  These figures are based on actual transplant rates in 2001-2003.” [4]

If stem cells are so powerful that they can heal these diseases in others, just imagine what that could do for your own baby.  Stem cells could cure cancer — what if they could also PREVENT it?  To whom would you rather give this gift,  a stranger or your newborn baby?  Which do you decide?

Resources

Evidence-Based Medicine: Immediate Cord Clamping

National Marrow Donor Program — Cord Blood Donation

Wikipedia: Cord Blood Banking

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