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Preparing for childbirth involves a lot of decisions – from choosing your baby’s name to the hospital where you want to deliver. One of the decisions that may be on your mind is whether to collect and store cord blood after your bundle of joy is born.

Cord blood is the blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. This blood contains hematopoietic stem cells that can regenerate into different types of cells and are used to treat certain diseases.

Wondering if cord blood banking is right for your family? Christine Masterson, MD, OB/GYN and Chief of Women and Children’s Services and Dermatology at Summit Health, points out five factors to consider. Talk to your physician about what option is best for you and your baby.

1. Cord blood has some advantages in treating disease.

The blood in the umbilical cord contains hematopoietic stem cells, which are unique because of their “pre-evolved state,” explains Dr. Masterson. “They have the ability to assume the form of other kinds of blood cells,” she adds.

These stem cells can be used to treat more than 70 different diseases, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). They include:

  • Some forms of cancer, including leukemia and lymphoma
  • Genetic disorders
  • Immune system disorders
  • Neurologic disorders

Bone marrow, a type of tissue found inside your bones, also contains hematopoietic stem cells. Cord blood, however, offers some distinct advantages.

  • It’s easier to collect. Collecting bone marrow can be painful for the donor and has some risks.
  • Cord blood can be frozen for future use, while bone marrow must be used soon after it’s collected.
  • Rejection in a transplant recipient is less likely with stem cells found in cord blood when compared to those in bone marrow.

One drawback of cord blood is that the number of stem cells collected is low. Units from multiple donors, however, can be combined to increase the number of stem cells for a transplant.

2. Cord blood collection is safe and painless.

“It doesn’t harm the mother or the baby,” says Dr. Masterson, adding that collection takes only 10 to 15 minutes. Cord blood can be collected in both vaginal and surgical births.

After your baby is born, your doctor or delivery room team member will clamp and cut the umbilical cord. Then a needle is inserted into the cord to collect the blood that will be tested and stored. The mother may also have blood drawn for testing purposes.

In 2017, ACOG issued a recommendation for delaying cord clamping for at least 30 to 60 seconds after birth. The new guidance was prompted by research showing that delayed cord clamping appears to benefit infants in several ways. Dr. Masterson says this recommendation is important to understand, because it can impact cord blood collection and should be discussed with your provider.

Sometimes, cord blood cannot be collected. Reasons for this include:

  • Premature birth
  • An emergency occurs, and the mother or baby’s health takes priority
  • The hospital doesn’t offer cord blood collection

3. It’s best to make your plans sooner rather than later.

Dr. Masterson advises women to talk about cord blood banking with their doctor early in the third trimester. If you decide to donate cord blood, you’ll need to notify your chosen blood bank and obtain a collection kit at least six weeks before your due date.

“The sooner you decide to partner with a bank and receive a kit, the better,” Dr. Masterson says, noting the possibility that you may deliver earlier than expected.

You will probably need to sign a contract and pay initial fees if you’re using a private bank. Also, remember to ask if your hospital charges a separate fee for cord blood collection and if your insurance plan covers the fee.

4. Not all cord blood banks are the same.

If you’re donating cord blood, you’ll need to decide whether to store it at a public or private bank.

  • Public banks store cord blood for anyone who needs it. If you chose to donate to a public bank, your baby’s cord blood will not be available for your own personal use. There is no charge to donate to public banks. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), cord blood stem cells from public banks are used 30 times more frequently than from private banks.

    An estimated 700,000 cord blood units have been donated to public banks, and more than 40,000 transplants have been performed, according to a report published in PubMed Central. The AAP, however, says more cord blood donations from underrepresented populations are needed to meet the increasing need.

    “These stem cells have great potential and can help many people, not just family members,” says Dr. Masterson.
  • Private banks store cord blood for the child or family’s private use. When cord blood is donated and used later by the same individual, it is known as autologous use. These banks charge a processing fee and an annual maintenance fee.

    Some people choose private banks because they have a family member whose medical condition could potentially be treated with a cord blood transplant. Others may simply prefer a private bank. Regardless of which option you choose, the likelihood of the child needing their own cord blood is low.

Autologous transplants cannot be used to treat a genetic disease or malignancy because the cord blood contains the same variant or repetition that caused the condition.

Ultimately, choosing where to donate cord blood is up to you. “We can provide what a patient needs to make an informed decision,” says Julia Gunther, RN, Director of Women and Children at Summit Health.

5. Cord blood stem cells may hold new promise for the future.

Researchers are studying new potential uses for cord blood, such as treatments for cardiovascular disease, sickle cell disease in children, and other conditions.

In the meantime, talk to your provider about cord blood banking and what may best meet your needs. You can also learn more about cord blood banking through the AAP, the American Association of Blood Banks, and the National Marrow Donor Program.