What is cord blood banking, and why you should do it?

If you are expecting a baby, you may have heard about the option to bank your baby’s cord blood at birth. Learning about banking cord blood can be confusing, and you may have questions. July is cord blood banking awareness, a chance to learn more about what it involves, why parents choose to bank their … Continued

What is cord blood banking, and why you should do it?

If you are expecting a baby, you may have heard about the option to bank your baby’s cord blood at birth. Learning about banking cord blood can be confusing, and you may have questions.

July is cord blood banking awareness, a chance to learn more about what it involves, why parents choose to bank their infant’s blood, whether it’s worth it, and the costs involved.

Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons and how to decide if it’s a good choice for your family.

What is cord blood banking?

Your newborn’s placenta and umbilical cord at birth contain blood rich with potentially lifesaving stem cells. The blood can be removed, stored, and possibly used in the future to treat many diseases and health conditions.

Medical professionals don’t remove cord blood directly from babies or birth parents. Instead, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) officials say the blood comes from the umbilical cord and placenta.

The stem cells in umbilical cords and placentas, called hematopoietic stem cells, can be used to treat health conditions by producing healthy new cells to replace damaged cells.

ACOG says the hematopoietic stem cells can be used to treat more than 70 types of disease. These include:

  • genetic disorders
  • immune system conditions
  • cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma
  • neurologic disorders

Why bank cord blood?

You may choose to bank your baby’s cord blood for several reasons.

One reason is to help a relative with a medical condition that may be satisfied with a stem cell donation. You also may want to help another person who needs stem cells.

One myth about cord banking is that your child can use the cord blood down the line, should they develop a serious medical concern. This type of transfer is called an autologous transplant, where a person’s cord blood is used to treat their health condition.

But ACOG says autologous transfers are rare.

If your child has a genetic disease, treating them with their stem cells wouldn’t help because they contain the same genes as the cells involved in the condition. Similarly, your own child’s stem cells can’t be used to treat cancers such as leukemia.

Instead, most cord blood transplants are allogeneic.

Your child’s stem cells would be used to treat another child or adult. It would require a strong match between the stem cell recipient (the person using the stem cells) and the stem cell donor (your child).


What are the benefits of cord blood banking?

The benefits of cord blood banking depend on why you’re banking and where your child’s blood is being stored.

If you are storing your child’s blood at a private institution, you may be able to use the stem cells to directly benefit a family member in need, including a close family member or your child’s sibling.

Storing your baby’s cord blood in a public facility also benefits. Stem cells can help treat people with many types of health conditions, including cancers and certain metabolic and immunologic disorders, the Health Resources & Services Administration reports.

Stem cells vs. bone marrow

There are many advantages to using stem cell transplants to treat medical conditions rather than bone marrow transplants.

According to ACOG, these benefits include:

  • Cord blood is more accessible to collect than bone marrow, and collection is less invasive or painful for the donor.
  • During cancer treatments, cord blood can strengthen the immune system overall.
  • Stem cells have more uses than bone marrow because donors and recipients are easier to match, and the body less commonly rejects stem cell transplants.

How is cord blood collected?

If you want to collect your newborn’s cord blood, you should inform your OB-GYN or birthing professional, such as a midwife, and the hospital or facility where you will give birth. They may need to order special equipment or a cord collecting kit.

Usually, you will need to inform your healthcare team of your choice to bank your infant’s blood about six weeks before your due date. You’ll also need to ensure you’ve signed all the necessary consent forms.

Cord blood extraction happens in the hospital after birth and after a healthcare professional has clamped and cut the umbilical cord. They then use a needle to draw blood out of the cord and store it in a designated bag.

The process takes about 10 minutes and doesn’t require contact with the baby.

Sometimes, cord blood extraction isn’t possible. Reasons for this may include:

  • The facility where you give birth doesn’t do blood cord extractions.
  • Your insurance won’t cover the costs, and its cost is too expensive for you.
  • Healthcare professionals cannot take enough blood, which may happen if your baby is premature or if you have decided to delay clamping of the umbilical cord.
  • If an emergency occurs during or after birth, healthcare professionals may prioritize your and your baby’s health over cord blood banking.


How is cord blood stored?

After collection, it must be stored very carefully to preserve its quality. Each facility has its protocols and procedures for how this is done.

The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) explains certain accrediting institutions oversee the regulation of cord blood storage and cautions that some private cord blood banks may not meet all these standards.

Before agreeing to have your child’s cord blood stored at a private facility, you may want to find out:

  • if the facility is accredited
  • whether they have electric system backups in case of equipment failure
  • what their rate of successful transplants is

Cord blood bank accrediting institutions include:

  • FACT/Joint Accreditation Committee
  • NetCord/Foundation for Accreditation of Cell Therapy
  • American Association of Blood Banks

What’s the difference between public and private cord blood banks?

Before considering cord blood donation, you must understand the difference between private and public banks. Here’s what to know:

Private cord banks

Private banks are often used by parents who believe that their child’s cord blood may be helpful to a family member who has a medical condition.

They require you to pay on an ongoing basis for storing your child’s cord blood.

Not all private banks are accredited or regulated the same way as public banks.

Public cord banks

Public banks are free and supported by government or private funds.

Currently, there is very little evidence that storing your child’s blood will help your child fight a medical condition in the future. If your child needs stem cells to treat a condition, they will more likely receive a donation from a public cord bank.

Donating to a public cord bank does not get to decide who will use your child’s blood, and you present your child’s cord blood to help someone in need.

Public cord banks are heavily regulated, and cord blood from these banks is used more frequently than cord blood from private banks. Blood from public banks is used 30 times more frequently than from private banks.

Most major health organizations — including the Academy of American Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — recommend public cord blood banking.

Another reason these organizations recommend using public cord blood banks is because they are consistently and well regulated.

How much does cord blood banking cost?

Cord blood banking at a public cord bank is free, and you will not have to pay any costs if you donate. These institutions are usually supported by federal funds or receive private funding.

On the other hand, private blood cord banks charge fees, and you must pay these fees for the entire time your child’s cord blood is stored in these facilities.

Private cord banks generally charge an initial fee for collecting and processing cord blood. After these initial fees, you will also pay annual fees for consistent storage. Private cord blood banks vary in fee amounts, but they average about $2,000 for initial costs and between $100 and $175 annually for annual storage fees, per the AAP.


Summing it up 

There are many benefits to banking cord blood. But how you do it depends on several factors, including your family’s medical needs and financial situation.

Almost anyone, including Detroit area residents, can choose to donate their infant’s cord blood to a public bank. Doing so may help many people. While most medical institutions do not recommend private cord banking, this may be the right choice if you have a family member who might use the cord blood you bank to treat a health condition.

Either way, it’s good to speak with your healthcare professional before deciding whether to bank your baby’s cord blood. They can also advise you on the best way to do it, and which type of blood bank may best meet your needs.