Cord blood is found in the umbilical cord and placenta
The blood is rich in stem cells that are beneficial in fighting diseases
Cord blood can help a relative with an inherited disease, or donated to a public blood bank
One of the most important steps you can take for your baby’s health, as well as the lives of others, happens right after delivery. Cord blood banking preserves vital stem cells that can be used to help treat a range of diseases. This isn’t a decision to make in the delivery room, though; banking cord blood requires preparation and planning. Here’s what you should know before making that big — perhaps even life-changing — decision.
Why should you save your baby’s cord blood?
Cord blood gets its name because it is found in the umbilical cord after the baby is born, as well as in the placenta. This blood contains hematopoietic stem cells. These stem cells are powerful. They can transition to become different types of blood cells, so they can help the body develop various tissues and strengthen the immune system. Because of that adaptability, these stem cells can be used with people who have health issues related to their immune system or genetics. In fact, scientists have found applications for these cells in more than 70 diseases. These stem cells are similar to bone marrow, which is often used for transplants or donations, but stem cells are less likely to cause issues with the recipient while being easier to harvest and store.
How is cord blood collected?
The collection process takes about five to 10 minutes and occurs within the first 15 minutes after the birth and the cutting of the umbilical cord. It doesn’t matter if you gave birth vaginally or via cesarean; cord blood can be taken in either case. There are two collection methods: the blood can be taken from the cord by drawing it out with a syringe, or the cord blood is drained into a bag. It’s taken to a lab for processing, which needs to take place within 48 hours, before being stored in a blood bank.
How do you select a blood bank?
The first thing to look for is accreditation from the American Association of Blood Banks. There are actually two types of blood banks: private and public. Generally, the kind of blood bank you choose depends on what you will do with the cord blood.
Private blood banks store the cord blood for your own personal use. For instance, because cord blood has genetic material, it can be used for a close relative, such as a sibling or parent, who has an inherited medical issue. This would be called a directed donation.
Public blood banks accept donations of cord blood that can be used to help anyone in need, for a process called an allogenic transplant. If you donate your cord blood to a public bank, it will be screened for blood or genetic disorders and entered into a database for any future potential matches.
Generally, public blood banks will accept your cord blood donation for free, but many private banks will charge collection and storage fees.
So what do you need to do if you decide to harvest cord blood?
This isn’t a decision that you can make on the spur of the moment as you go into labor. You need to make sure the hospital where you will give birth allows cord blood collection; you may also need to check if your insurance covers the procedure. You also have to select a blood bank, pay any applicable fees and get a collection kit if the hospital doesn’t provide one. You must also give your permission for cord blood collection and have your own blood tested to ensure you don’t have any blood disorders. Whether you are making a directed donation or giving the blood to a public bank, you’ll know that your baby is starting life by giving a great gift to someone else.
If you’re pregnant, cord blood donation is probably one of many questions you’re seeking answers to. Find a physician near you for expert prenatal care.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.