In all the preparations for the birth of your baby, you’ve spent hours thinking through absolutely everything, from your hospital bag to the nursery color scheme. You’re ready to roll! And then your BFF asks you: Have you considered cord blood banking?
And you realize that making a decision about whether you intend to bank your baby’s cord blood hasn’t made it onto your list. Perhaps you’ve never heard of this at all. Or perhaps you’ve considered it, but felt unsure about how to go about it. Allow us to assist!
The blood in a newborn’s umbilical cord is known — appropriately — as cord blood. It’s packed with stem cells.
A little stem cell 101: Embryonic stem cells are famous for their versatility in developing into all kinds of other cells. These stem cells can develop into brain cells, kidney cells, muscle cells — you name it.
Adults have stem cells, too, but they’re generally less versatile.
Stem cells from cord blood don’t exactly fall into either of these categories, but they’re more like embryonic stem cells. In fact, they’re sometimes called cord-blood-derived embryonic-like stem cells, or CBEs.
These stem cells can be transplanted into a person’s body, where they can rebuild an individual’s bone marrow and revitalize their immune system.
Stem cells have saved the lives of people with leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell anemia. They’ve also cured individuals with certain rare inherited genetic disorders and immune deficiencies. They aren’t a guaranteed cure, but they do have potential in the right circumstances.
Simply put, cord blood banking is the storage of umbilical cord blood for future use. (Similar to a blood bank, sperm bank, or egg/embryo storage facility.)
There are both public and private cord banking options.
Public cord banks
In a public cord bank, cord blood units that have enough stem cells to be medically useful are tested and given anonymously to individuals who are a genetic match.
Cord blood that is donated to a public cord blood bank, but doesn’t have sufficient stem cells for medical treatments, may be used for research.
If you’re interested in donating your baby’s cord blood, check to see if there’s an option to contribute to a public cord bank through your birthing hospital.
The biggest drawback to a public cord bank is the lack of ability to determine what happens to your baby’s cord blood and stem cells. But there are many advantages to public banking:
- from a health equity standpoint, public donations have the potential to help more people (through both matching and research) from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds
- public donations from those of mixed ethnicities are particularly needed and can save lives
- public banking is free
Also remember that if your child does need a transplant in the future, there’s the possibility (depending on the disease) that they won’t be able to use their own cord blood stem cells. This is because the disease can also be present in the cord blood.
Private cord banks
If you desire to store the cord blood in case your child or another member of your family (who is a genetic match) were to become ill in the future, a private cord bank allows that.
But be aware that some companies may make unproven claims about cord blood being able to “cure” certain conditions.
Private cord banks give you control over what happens to the cord blood; however, that control comes with a hefty price tag.
Whatever type of cord blood bank you intend to use, it’s important to do your research to make sure that it follows proper protocols for collecting, transferring, testing, and storing of cord products.
Accreditation from organizations like FACT (Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center or AABB is a good indicator that your cord blood is in good hands.
It’s also important to keep in mind that your cord blood bank options might be limited based on your location or birth circumstances. Private cord blood banks may need advance notice to send a collection kit, so depending on how close you are to giving birth, it may not be possible to use one.
On the other hand, public cord banks don’t operate in all areas or collect cord blood from all hospitals. To find out if public cord blood banking is possible at your local hospital, you can check with your hospital or check-out The National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match website.
The first step to collecting cord blood is doing research to determine where you want to bank the blood. This may include researching various banks’ practices and asking for quotes if you intend to use a private cord blood bank.
The next step is preparing to collect the blood. This means talking to your medical providers. Before giving birth, it’s important to list this desire on your birth plan and notify your doctor.
If interested in storing cord blood, you should ideally speak with your doctor between 28 and 34 weeks of pregnancy about your plan to do so.
Depending on where you intend to bank the cord blood, there may be paperwork for your doctor and you to complete about your medical history and/or blood tests to perform.
There are some public cord blood banks that will allow mothers to consent to the donation of their child’s cord blood if they are still in early labor, but the general expectation is that this decision has been made in advance of delivery.
Next up is the collection of the cord blood. After you give birth, and the umbilical cord has been cut, cord blood is collected from the placenta and the umbilical cord. No blood is taken from the baby, and the procedure shouldn’t interfere with the labor and delivery process.
Once the cord blood is collected, the cord blood bank will be notified. They will quickly come to transport it to their labs. There it will be tested and stored until the time comes to thaw it for a transfusion.
There are some situations in which it’s not possible to collect cord blood — for example, if you need emergency surgery or have insufficient cord blood.
Cord blood banks follow slightly different procedures for storing cord blood, so you should always check with your specific bank about their processes and procedures for storage. These different storage practices can result in different prices being attached to their services.
It’s free if you choose to have a public cord blood bank collect, test, process, and store your child’s cord blood, since you’re donating it. While you won’t have a say in how the cord blood is used in the future, you also won’t have to pay for anything.
On the other hand, the cost for privately banking cord blood can vary greatly depending on the specific bank you choose to use and any promotions they might be running. (Pro tip: July is National Cord Blood Awareness Month.)
Prices can also vary depending on whether you intend to store cord blood, cord tissue, or both.
For a private cord banking, initial processing fees can range from $500 to $2,500 (or more) and then there are monthly or yearly storage fees ($100 to $300 or more) that add up to make it no small investment.
Many organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have issued statements recommending public cord blood bank donations over private cord blood banking.
One reason for this is that the likelihood of a child benefiting from their own banked cord blood is extremely low.
First, many of the diseases currently treatable with cord blood are rare. Second, for many of these diseases, the ill child’s cord blood couldn’t be used in their treatment since the stem cells would contain the same genetic problems.
While there’s the possibility of using a family member’s cord blood to help treat a different ailing family member, the genetic markers still need to be a match. The greatest chance of this match would be in siblings.
For this reason, both the AAP and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists don’t recommend private cord blood banking unless there’s already a child in the family who could benefit from a stem cell transplant.
Still on the fence about whether a private cord blood bank is necessary? In 2014 researchers found 66 percent to 97 percent of individuals could find a match among donated umbilical cord-blood units or bone-marrow donors in the National Marrow Donor Program’s Registry depending on their ethnic background. Matches for ethnic minorities were the hardest to find in the study.
At Healthline, we value providing our users with reliable, trustworthy information. To that end, we’ve put several private cord blood banks through a rigorous, two-round vetting process.
We used a 100-point scoring rubric that looked at different criteria in four main categories:
- Medical Accuracy and Integrity
- Objective Indicators of Trust
- Industry and Ethical Standards
- Company Reputation
We developed our scorecard after doing some research into the industry and identifying what was important for a company to have — for example, accreditation from the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and registration with the FDA.
If your family is interested in pursuing private banking, we recommend checking with the following companies, which all passed our vetting process with a score of 80/100 or higher:
- Americord banks cord blood, cord tissue, and placental tissue. It’s one of the few companies to store placental tissue, although there aren’t yet any FDA-approved uses of this tissue in the United States. Americord has a great reputation and the most positive reviews among the group — along with an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) — and has been around for many years.
- Cord Blood Registry (CBR) preserves cord blood and cord tissue. It’s also known for partnering with researchers in the use of stem cells in studies. In fact, CBR will let you know if you may be eligible for a clinical trial.
- Viacord also provides stem cells for clinical trials along with banking cord blood and tissue. The company says that its genetic testing provides valuable insights for understanding risks and improving health. Viacord also has an A+ rating with the BBB.
Public cord blood banks are lifesaving, especially for hard-to-match individuals in need of a stem cell transplant.
Nathan Mumford was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004 and unable to find a bone marrow donor match. Luckily, cord blood donated by a baby girl was a match and able to provide a cure.
As a result of his experience, Mumford now advocates for minorities and mixed ethnic groups to bank and donate their cord blood.
Cord blood stem cells are even being used as a potential treatment for apraxia. Parents Steve and Rosa Barney chose to privately bank the cord blood of their daughter Isabella at birth.
At the time, they thought the stem cells might benefit their older son, who had been diagnosed with childhood apraxia, a speech disorder that affects the brain’s ability to transmit sounds and words to the mouth and lips.
However, the Barneys ended up using the stem cells from the cord blood for Isabella herself, who — at 18 months — was also diagnosed with childhood apraxia. After the 15-minute infusion of her own cells, 4-year-old Isabella’s speech improved significantly. She also continued speech therapy.
Whether or not to bank your child’s cord blood is a very personal decision that may be influenced by a family history of certain diseases or merely a desire to give back through a donation to a public cord blood bank. Only you can determine what makes sense for your family.
Whatever decision you make around your baby’s cord blood, you can rest assured that it shouldn’t impact your labor and delivery.