Cord blood banking: what you need to know

Providence Health Team

Parents are inundated with decisions to make before a baby is born, like choosing a birthing plan, buying a car seat and picking a name. It can be mind-boggling. And, now, there’s something else to consider: whether to bank your baby’s cord blood.

What is cord blood?

Cord blood is the blood found in the placenta and umbilical cord that contains blood-forming stem cells called hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs). These cells are typically used to treat blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, genetic diseases like sickle cell disease, as well as immune and metabolic disorders. HPCs are found in cord blood, peripheral blood and bone marrow. The body is least likely to reject HPCs from cord blood.

How is cord blood collected?

Cord blood must be taken after the umbilical cord has been clamped and detached from the newborn – within 15 minutes after birth. Collecting cord blood is a safe, non-invasive process, similar to drawing blood from a vein. “It has no effect on the newborn. Cord blood is essentially blood that would have otherwise been thrown away,” says Kevin Pieper, M.D., a Providence OB-GYN. (Cord blood is often used to treat children, because the amount of blood obtained from one umbilical cord isn’t enough to treat an adult.)

What are the options for banking cord blood?

There are 2.5 million units of cord blood stored in private family banks and 650,000 in public banks around the world. You can bank your baby’s cord blood for different reasons.

  • Private (family) cord blood bank: cord blood is exclusively for use by your child or family members. Consider the cost, especially if your family doesn’t have a diagnosed need. Fees can range from $1,000 to $2,000 upfront for enrollment, collection and processing – plus, $100 to $200 for annual storage. Some banks offer free processing and storage if a relative has been diagnosed with a condition that can be treated with stem cells.
  • Public cord blood bank: anyone can offer an anonymous donation of cord blood, which is regulated by the FDA, for potential use for a transplant patient or research. Learn more about donating umbilical cord blood, which is free.

Making the right choice for your family

The choice to bank your newborn’s cord blood is, understandably, a deeply personal one. On one hand, the potentially life-saving decision could benefit your child, family member or even a stranger. However, banking cord blood comes with a hefty price tag and the chance of needing it is slim. In fact, a report in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News found that less than three percent of publicly banked cord blood gets used. “You have to view it as an insurance policy,” says Dr. Pieper. “Someone is going to spend the money for it, but hopefully never has to use it.”

To learn more about cord blood banking or donation, talk with your obstetrician or midwife.

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