If you are a new or expectant parent, you’ve probably heard about the option of banking your baby’s cord blood at birth. The topic can be confusing, and you may have many unanswered questions.
You may be unsure exactly what cord banking involves, why people choose to bank their infant’s blood, whether it’s worth it to do so, and how much it costs to bank cord blood.
Here’s a simple breakdown of the potential benefits of cord blood banking and how to decide if it’s right for your family.
At birth, your newborn’s placenta and umbilical cord contain blood that is rich with potentially lifesaving stem cells. This blood can be removed, stored, and used down the road to treat various diseases and conditions.
Healthcare professionals do not remove cord blood directly from babies or birthing parents. Rather, it comes from the umbilical cord and placenta themselves, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
The stem cells in umbilical cords and placentas are called hematopoietic stem cells. In people with certain health conditions, they can be used to produce healthy new cells and replace damaged cells.
Stem cells are used to treat over 70 types of diseases, according to ACOG. These include:
You might choose to bank your newborn’s cord blood for several reasons.
First, you may choose to do so if you have a family member with a medical condition that might benefit from stem cell donation. Alternatively, you might want to donate your baby’s blood to help another person in need of stem cells.
One myth about cord banking is that you child can use the cord blood down the line, should they develop a serious medical concern. This type of transfer — where a person’s own cord blood is used to treat their health condition — is called an autologous transplant.
ACOG notes that autologous transfers are rare.
If your child has a genetic disease, for example, treating them with their own stem cells wouldn’t help because these stem cells contain the same genes as the cells that are involved in the disease. Similarly, your own child’s stem cells can’t be used to treat cancers such as leukemia.
Instead, most cord blood transplants are allogeneic.
This means that 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).
The benefits of cord blood banking depend on your purpose and where you are storing your child’s cord blood.
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 has benefits, too. Stem cells can help treat people with many types of health conditions, including cancers and certain metabolic and immunologic conditions, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration.
Stem cells vs. bone marrow
There are many advantages to using stem cell transplants for treating medical conditions rather than using bone marrow transplants.
According to ACOG, these benefits include:
- Cord blood is easier 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.
If you want to have your newborn’s cord blood collected, 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 6 weeks in advance of your due date. You’ll also need to be sure you’ve signed all the required consent forms.
Cord blood extraction happens in the hospital after birth and after a healthcare professional has clamped and cut the umbilical cord. They will then use a needle to draw blood out of the cord and store in a designated bag.
The entire process is quick — about 10 minutes — and does not involve direct contact with your 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.
After collection, cord blood must be stored very carefully to ensure that its quality is preserved. Each facility has its own 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
Before considering cord blood donation, it’s important for you to understand the difference between private and public banks. Here’s what to know:
Private cord banks
Private banks are usually 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 your child’s cord blood to be stored.
Not all private banks are accredited or regulated in the same way that public banks are.
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 own child fight a medical condition in the future. In fact, if your child needs stem cells to treat a condition, it’s more likely that they will receive a donation from a public cord bank.
When you donate to a public cord bank, you do not get to decide who will use your child’s blood. You are essentially donating your child’s cord blood to help a person in need.
Public cord banks are heavily regulated, and cord blood from these banks is used more frequently than cord blood from private banks. In fact, 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 that they are consistently and well regulated.
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 ongoing storage. Private cord blood banks vary in their fee amounts, but they average about $2,000 for initial fees and between $100 and $175 each year for annual storage fees, per the AAP.
There are many benefits to banking cord blood. But how you do it depends on several factors, including your family’s medical needs and your financial situation.
Almost anyone 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 for you if you have a family member who might use the cord blood you bank to treat a health condition.
Either way, it’s a good idea to speak with your healthcare professional before deciding on 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.