Cord blood is the blood left in the umbilical cord after birth. It contains stem cells. These cells have the amazing ability to grow into many different kinds of cells, like bone marrow cells, blood cells, or brain cells. This can make them valuable for treating some diseases.
Diseases that can be treated with stem cell transplants include leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, and some types of anemia. When healthy stem cells are transplanted into a child who is ill, those cells can grow new bone marrow cells to replace the ones destroyed by the disease or its treatment. Stem cells from the child's own cord blood often cannot be used, because they may have led to the disease in the first place.
Much research is being done to see if stem cells can be used to treat more problems. For now, though, treatment is limited to diseases that affect blood cells.
Cord blood kept in a private bank is usually used to treat disease in a brother or sister. Cord blood stem cells are rarely used to treat adults, who normally need more stem cells than cord blood has.
The umbilical cord is usually thrown away after birth. But the blood inside the cord can be saved, or banked, for possible later use. The blood is drawn from the umbilical cord after the cord has been clamped and cut. Cord blood banks freeze the cord blood for storage.
You may save your baby's cord blood in a private bank or donate it to a public bank. Private banks charge a fee to store cord blood for your family's use. If you donate the cord blood to a public bank, the cord blood can be used by anyone who needs it.
During your pregnancy, you may get ads or brochures from private cord blood banks. Some of them suggest that parents should save the cord blood in case the baby should one day need a stem cell transplant. Be wary of banks that urge cord blood banking for this reason. It is not known how likely a child is to need a transplant of his or her own cells, but experts say the chances are very small.1
Private cord blood banks have collected hundreds of thousands of cord blood samples. But the blood has been used in only a small number of transplants.2 Most transplants of cord blood stem cells use cord blood donated by others to public banks.
One reason why donations to public cord banks are so valuable is that stem cells from cord blood do not need to be as perfectly matched for a transplant as do stem cells from adult bone marrow. Stem cells from cord blood are not as mature, so the transplant patient's body is much less likely to reject them.
It costs money to store your baby’s cord blood. Private banks charge about $1,000 to $2,000 to start. Then you must pay yearly storage fees for as long as the blood is stored. The storage fees cost around $115 to $125 a year. Health plans usually do not cover these costs. Only you can decide if the cost makes sense for you and your family.
Some private blood banks will waive their fees for families who need the stem cells right away.
It is very unlikely that anyone in your family will ever need your baby's cord blood. The only people likely to use privately banked blood are those who already have a child with an illness that could be treated with cord blood from a baby brother or sister.1
Doctors worry that the advertising done by private cord blood banks may make some parents feel guilty if they do not want or cannot pay to store their baby’s cord blood. Pregnancy and childbirth are emotional times, so learn all you can ahead of time.
If you bank or donate your baby's cord blood, it will be tested for genetic and infectious diseases. What you learn from a genetic test can affect your life and that of your family in many ways.
Private banking: If you decide to bank your baby's cord blood, make sure that the blood bank you use is approved by a reputable regulatory agency, such as the American Association of Blood Banks. Look for a bank that has tested and stored many cord blood samples and whose samples have been used successfully in transplants. Ask for a copy of the bank's policies and procedures.
Public banking: You may decide that you would like to donate your baby’s cord blood. Donating makes the stem cells available to others. It does not cost anything. Unfortunately, it is not yet an option in many communities. Call the hospital where you plan to give birth to find out if you can donate cord blood there.
Your doctor might recommend privately banking your baby's umbilical cord blood if:
|Bank cord blood||Don't bank cord blood|
|What is usually involved?|
|What are the benefits?|
|What are the risks and side effects?|
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
"When we were expecting, we were swamped with promotions about cord blood banking. They said it was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to do something that could save our child’s life. It made us feel guilty. Then the doctor told us the odds of our child needing his own cord blood were almost zero. So we decided banking the cord blood would not be a smart use of our money."
— Hank, 32
"Our 2-year-old daughter has leukemia. She will need a stem cell transplant. We have contacted a cord blood bank and are going to have our newborn’s cord blood saved and, hopefully, used to save our toddler’s life."
— Sondra, 30
"I did not want to pay to save my baby's cord blood. But I was bothered by the thought of those good stem cells going to waste. So I contacted a public blood bank in my community, and they collected the cord blood so that someone else can use the stem cells in the future."
— Lee, 35
"I liked the idea of donating my baby’s cord blood to a public blood bank in case someone else needed it. But I have so many other things to do before my baby is born that I wasn't sure I had time to deal with making the arrangements. As it turns out, cord blood banking isn’t available in our small community. That made the decision not to do it easy."
— Theresa, 25
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to bank your baby's cord blood
Reasons not to bank your baby's cord blood
I think putting the cord blood in a private bank would be worth the cost.
The cost of putting the cord blood in a private bank worries me.
I have a young family member who will probably need a stem cell transplant in the future.
No one in my family has an illness that would need stem cells for treatment.
I will donate the cord blood to a public cord bank if I can, because I'll feel better if the stem cells don't go to waste.
Cord blood donation is not available in my community.
I like the idea of banking the cord blood for the future, "just in case."
I'm not worried about the really small chance that my child might need his or her own stem cells.
We plan to have more children, and leukemia, Hodgkin's, or sickle cell disease runs in our family.
We don't plan to have any more children.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Banking my baby's cord blood
NOT banking my baby's cord blood
1. I should bank my baby's cord blood in case my baby gets an illness that can be treated with stem cells.
2. I have to arrange ahead of the birth to have my baby's umbilical cord blood banked or donated.
3. I may be able to donate my baby's cord blood to a public blood bank for use in research or to help other children.
1. Do you understand the options available to you?
2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology|
American Academy of Pediatrics (2007). Cord blood banking for potential future transplantation. Pediatrics, 119(1): 165–170. Available online: http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/pediatrics;119/1/165.pdf.