Did you know that stem cells from your baby’s umbilical-cord blood could treat cancer? This blood is typically discarded at birth, but some parents bank their baby’s cord blood in case it comes in handy later.
Cord blood transplants have helped treat leukemia, lymphoma, blood disorders and about 80 other diseases and genetic conditions. Should you bank your baby’s cord blood?
How Cord Blood Is Used
Your baby’s cord blood is full of pristine stem cells that can develop into all types of blood cells, which can be used to treat immune deficiencies, blood disorders, some cancers and maybe even other medical conditions—we’re still learning about what cord blood stem cells can do.
One big advantage of cord blood stem cells is that they’re less likely to be rejected by the transplant recipient, even if they’re not an exact match.
Collecting the cord blood is risk-free—there’s no danger to Mom or baby. The process takes only a few minutes. Sounds great, right? But when it comes to cord blood banking, you have choices that make things a little more complicated.
Private vs. Public Cord Blood Banks
First, you need to know that there are both private and public cord blood banks. Private banks store your baby’s cord blood in case they or an immediate family member needs a transplant at some point. This insurance comes at a price: about $1,000–$2,000 initially, plus $100–$200 per year after that.
Public cord blood banks store blood that can be used by anyone needing a transplant (assuming they find a match). Sending your baby’s cord blood to a public bank is a donation, so there’s no cost. But if your child or another family member ends up needing those stem cells in the future, your donation may have already been used to help someone else.
The Benefits of Public Cord Blood Banking
The American Academy of Pediatrics—and other health organizations worldwide—recommend public cord blood banking over private.
- The chances that your own child or a family member will need this blood are extremely small; the chances that someone else may need it are much higher. In 2015, researchers estimated that 30 times more publicly banked cord blood units had been used than privately banked units.
- For some conditions (such as leukemia), studies have shown that a child’s own cord blood stem cells may contain pre-malignant cells, so those stem cells aren’t actually usable for a transplant.
- Public cord blood banks are more strictly regulated. That’s not to say private banks don’t adhere to strict standards too (they do have to register with the Food and Drug Administration, and most are accredited through a nonprofit organization), but you need to do your homework if you decide to go the private route.
How To Donate or Bank Your Baby’s Cord Blood
Despite the AAP’s push for public donation, it’s actually easier to use a private cord blood bank here in North Texas—and may be the only option for most parents.
There are only two public cord blood banks in Texas: Texas Cord Blood Bank in San Antonio and MD Anderson Cord Blood Bank in Houston. But only TCBB partners with a DFW hospital—specifically, Medical City Dallas. If you’re delivering at Medical City Dallas and you’re interested in donating your cord blood, be sure to notify your doctor well in advance. To be eligible, you have to be at least 34 weeks along when you deliver, and it must be a single pregnancy (not twins or other multiples).
Private cord blood banks are typically not location-restricted—they’ll send you a collection kit and arrange for it to be picked up afterward by a courier. You still need to let your health care provider know, because they’ll be the one collecting the cord blood for you. The Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation keeps a list of private banks.
It’s rare, but occasionally families who are expecting a baby already have an older child who needs a transplant. In this case, your health care provider may be able to work with a cord blood bank to collect your baby’s cord blood for the transplant. TCBB has provided this kind of service in the past, but only at partner hospitals; the organization recommends talking to your physician first if your family is in this situation.
Image courtesy of iStock.