Many parents are given the option to bank their child’s umbilical cord blood at birth, as “insurance” if the child should need it someday. Cord blood is a special type of blood, available at birth, which has the same cells found in blood marrow. These hematopoietic cells, or blood forming cells, can develop into platelets, and white or red blood cells. These types of cells are needed to rebuild a healthy supply of good cells that are killed of by certain diseases of the blood, or cancer treatments. Children who suffer childhood cancer often need bone marrow transplants to replenish this supply, and must wait to find a match. In theory, banked cord blood would be available to these children.
While banking your child’s cord blood may be a smart idea if you have a medical history of childhood cancers and diseases of the blood, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against it if you have no family history of the diseases. Banking cord blood is very pricey, typically up to $2000 US Dollars (USD) to start, plus collection fees, courier fees, processing and an annual storage fee. There are no studies that show how many children end up needing their banked cord blood, nor how effective the cord blood was if used. The amount of cord blood banked is typically only enough for a child, so it may not be effective if needed for an adult.
If you decide to bank your child’s cord blood, it will be collected after delivery. The doctor and/or nurse who is trained in cord blood collection will draw blood from the umbilical cord, prior to the delivery of the placenta. When the placenta is delivered, the doctor will attempt to collect as much blood as possible — the bigger the amount collected, the more cord blood cells will be present. Vaginal delivery tends to net the most cord blood, often because it is easier and safer for the doctor to collect the cord blood under these circumstances versus during a cesarean section.
Once the cord blood is transported to the cord blood bank, it is processed and separated into stem cells. It is then frozen cryogenically and stored until you need it. It can be utilized for the child it is collected from, or for a family member or stranger. The magic of cord blood is that it is immature, and can change to be what the person needs it to be — this means it typically is not rejected by the recipient.
If you’re thinking about cord blood banking, remember to read the materials the cord blood bank provides with an open mind. Many cord blood banking companies play into the normal fears that all parents have — that their child might be stricken by a horrible childhood disease. Check out the reliability of the bank, and ask questions such as if you can change facilities, what happens if the bank goes out of business and what the fees are. The cord blood banking industry is regulated by the government, so there protections in place for the consumer.
If you’d like to give the gift of your child’s cord blood for someone else in need, contact a donor agency to see if you can donate it.