Cord blood banking is a simple act that could save lives affected by blood-related diseases like leukemia or lymphoma. However, it’s important to understand what cord blood banking is and how it works—for instance, even if you pay for private cord blood banking, the blood may not be able to be used for your child or family in certain situations. Get the facts, below, on how to donate your baby’s cord blood to a public bank or store it privately for family use.
What is Cord Blood Banking?
Cord blood banking collects the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born. This blood is saved for use in the future, either in a public bank or reserved privately for family use. This has become a popular practice because cord blood contains hematopoietic cells. Unlike other cells in the body, which can become copies of themselves, hematopoietic cells can become different types of cells and are used to treat many diseases, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Two kinds of cord blood banking exist, public and private banking. With public cord blood banking, the blood that is collected from your umbilical cord and placenta is donated into a public bank that can be used by qualifying patients outside of your family.
Private cord blood banks, however, store the blood collected for use by your baby if they were to be diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition in the future. If your family chooses, this blood can also be used by a family member. A fee is paid by parents to have their baby’s cord blood stored in a private cord blood bank.
Benefits of Cord Blood Banking
The awesome thing about cord blood is that it can be used to treat a wide variety of diseases. The FDA has approved cord blood for use in treating blood cancers like leukemias and lymphomas along with blood disorders like sickle cell disease.
Once you decide you would like to have your baby’s cord blood collected after their birth, you can choose between public and private cord blood banking. Each option has pros and cons, and understanding the benefits can help you to make the right choice for your baby and your family.
Private Cord Blood Banking
Private cord blood banking, such as the services offered by the Cord Blood Registry (CBR), comes with a fee. I compared CBR vs Viacord, two main private cord blood banking companies, and found that the prices do vary quite a bit. Cord blood banking with ViaCord costs $2,945 for the first year and $350 a year for continued storage. If you choose Cord Blood Registry, collection and storage will cost $1,685 for the first year and $185 a year for storage. CBR also offers payment plans as low as $49 for 48 months to cover the initial fee of collecting and storing cord blood.
The benefit to making this choice is knowing that the cord blood is reserved for family use only. You can choose to save it in case your baby were to need it in the future or you can offer it to qualifying family members. The downside, however, is that the blood may go unused. The best-case scenario would be that your child would never need their cord blood. However, it is also true that not all diseases that are treated by cord blood can be treated with your baby’s cord blood. If your child is diagnosed with a genetic disease, their own hematopoietic cells cannot be used since those cells would have the same genes, according to the FDA. The same is true for leukemia, which requires a matching stem cell or cord blood donation from someone else for treatment.
Public Cord Blood Banking
Public cord blood banking allows you to donate your baby’s cord blood, free of charge, to be stored in a public bank. These donations can then be used and accessed by anyone with a medical diagnosis that qualifies for treatment using cord blood cells. Some of these banks allow for directed donation, which means you may be able to access your donation to direct it to a family member or sibling for use.
In addition to not having guaranteed access to your baby’s cord blood after donation, another downside to public cord blood banking is that not all donations are accepted. In fact, a portion is discarded because they don’t meet volume thresholds. According to one 2015 research review published in PloS one, public banks struggle with financial sustainability, and raising the threshold limits for donations is one way they have cut costs. Unfortunately, that means your donation could be discarded if it doesn’t meet those thresholds.
Donations are stored anonymously in a public cord bank and these donations are made available to anyone who needs them, so it unlikely that parents could retrieve their child’s cord blood in the future if they were to need it. However, your doctor would work with you to use public banks to secure a donation if their diagnosis were to warrant it.
How to Donate Your Baby’s Cord Blood
There are a few steps to actually donating or banking your baby’s cord blood:
1. Let your doctor know
You don’t have to decide right away if you’d like to donate your baby’s cord blood. Ideally, you’d need to let your doctor know you would like to donate your baby’s cord blood at least three months in advance so you have time to get everything in order and in case you deliver early. Some hospitals may also not have the capability to do cord blood banking, so check with your delivery facility if cord blood donation or banking is important to you. You can also add cord blood donation or banking information to your birth plan so it’s in writing ahead of time.
2. Request a cord blood donation kit online
You can also go online at Be the Match to check if your hospital partners with a local cord blood bank for donation. If they do, you can request the kit to donate your baby’s cord blood—the bank will send the kit directly to you and you will just have to bring it with you when you go to the hospital to deliver.
Also be sure to let all your nurses know that you are donating your baby’s cord blood so they can label it accordingly and collect the blood for you. Then, be sure to follow all of the rules for mailing the cord blood in. In some cases, it depends on when your baby is born—for instance, weekend donations are sometimes not accepted since the blood can’t be shipped in time.
3. Complete a health questionnaire & paperwork
Next, you will need to provide some information about your health history to the public cord bank. This information is an initial screening to ensure that you qualify as a donor. If you are the mother, your blood will also have to be tested to ensure there are no genetic disorders or infections in your blood that can be passed on to other people. If you have a disease that can be transmitted to others, it is unlikely you will be able to donate your baby’s cord blood, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration. The bank may also ask you to specify if you plan to have a vaginal delivery or C-section.
After this, you will be asked to sign a consent form. This form gives the public bank permission to store your cord blood donation and then use it for patients who are a match and require it for treatment of a disease.
4. Communicate with your birthing team
Once you are in the hospital, let all the members of your birthing team—including your delivery nurse and delivery care provider—know that you are donating cord blood. This will be collected after the umbilical cord is clamped. Then, cord blood is collected from the umbilical cord and placenta, and stored in a sterile environment until it is sent to the cord blood bank.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of cord blood banking?
Cord blood donations can be used to treat diseases related to blood conditions and cancers. Cord blood donations that are stored publicly can be accessed by patients who require cord blood for treatment of their disease.
How much does it cost to bank cord blood?
Public cord banking is free. However, if you would like to store your baby’s cord blood privately, it will cost between $1,000 and $3,000 to collected and initiate storage. After the first year, you will spend between $100 and $300 annually to continue to store your baby’s cord blood.
Is it worth it to bank cord blood?
Donating your baby’s cord blood could save a life. Since the cord blood will be discarded if it isn’t stored, there isn’t a downside to donating your baby’s blood for public use.
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…