When you’re expecting, it’s easy to feel marketing pressure from every corner. It seems like each day there’s something new you “must” have to be good parents. Ads for educational toys, wipe warmers, expensive specialty furniture and the like suddenly feel necessary. Some items are inexpensive, but others are a serious investment.
One such “product” is cord banking. Marketing teams work very hard to make you feel the need to purchase this service, but how can you separate the facts from fiction? Should you save your cord blood? The answers might surprise you.
What Is Cord Blood Banking?
Cord blood banking is a service allowing parents to freeze and store their child’s umbilical cord blood for future use. The extraction process doesn’t cause any pain for the baby or mother and occurs shortly after birth. A doctor will clamp the cord and then draw the blood, storing it in a bag to be sent to the cord blood bank’s labs, where technicians will work to separate precious stem cells from plasma and red blood cells.
You must decide well in advance if you want to donate or save your cord blood since not every hospital is equipped for proper collection. Also, if you plan to store the stem cells in a private bank, they’ll need time to send you their collection materials. Without a plan in place for retrieval, the cord and blood will be discarded as medical waste along with the afterbirth.
How Can Cord Blood Help?
Umbilical cord blood contains millions of stem cells that can form into other types of cells the body needs, like bone or different types of blood cells. Their primary function in current medicine is to treat blood-related disorders or autoimmune conditions such as leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disease.
Typically treatment for the same diagnosis would consist of finding an exact match bone marrow donor, which can be incredibly time-consuming, and ultimately medically risky for both the donor and recipient. Cord blood transfusions are much easier to match and carry no health risks for the donor and almost none for the recipient.
Even though some companies claim stem cells could cure other conditions like autism or diabetes, the FDA hasn’t approved them as a course of treatment. Stem cells have tremendous power to heal the body, but they aren’t a cure-all. Further research may provide answers and additional uses, but for now, you shouldn’t think of umbilical cord blood as an insurance policy for your child’s future health.
Where Do You Store Cord Blood?
Once you’ve decided to save your umbilical cord blood, you’ll need to choose how to store it. You have two very different options to consider — private or public banking. Private banks store the sample for your future use — you get to designate who can use it, where and when.
As with any decision, you’d want to research the facility to ensure the quality of their stem cell recovery process since the FDA doesn’t control private banks.
Sending your cord blood to a public bank is generally a donation since it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to retrieve your specific sample in the future. Anyone can use cord blood from a public bank, and it’s possible yours could even be used for research.
Do All Hospitals Extract Cord Blood?
Yes and no — the answer is a bit more complex. The easiest way to have your cord blood extracted is to go through a private bank. Almost all doctors will agree to work with them since all they have to do is the initial process. The bank provides the materials and has its own lab to process the sample.
Donating to a public bank takes a bit more leg work. Not all hospitals are set up to accept cord blood donations. You’ll need to research your facility to see if they participate.
How Much Does Banking Cost?
The most significant barrier to saving your cord blood is the cost. Private banks are known to be very expensive. If you decide to go that route, you’ll be charged a processing fee between $1,350 and $2,350.
As long as they hold your sample, you’ll also spend between $100 and $175 each year for storage and maintenance. These expenses will need to come out of pocket since health insurance doesn’t cover private cord blood storage.
Alternatively, you can donate your cord blood to a national registry at a public cord bank. The process is completely free. You just need to ensure you’re giving birth at a participating hospital. After collection, your sample goes to a processing and holding facility where it undergoes strict testing to ensure its quality before becoming available to anyone who needs it, including researchers.
Will My Child Benefit?
While your cord blood can treat a number of conditions, you’ll need to keep in mind it’s highly unlikely your child will be the one to benefit. Most illnesses stem cells are currently approved to treat are uncommon and genetic, meaning even if your child does end up with one of them, their sample won’t be viable for their use since it also carries the same genes. In fact, the odds of your child using their own cord blood ranges from 1:400 and 1:200,000.
Should You Save Your Cord Blood?
While the likelihood of your cord blood saving your little one is low, keeping it may not be a total waste. The American Medical Association recommends storing it if you have a close family member who has or is at risk for a condition that can be treated with stem cells.
While The American Academy of Pediatrics and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists don’t see enough merit in spending the high rates to save cord blood for your use if no one in your family needs or might need it, they both advocate for donating the stem cells to a public bank, where someone else in need might be able to find the match they’ve been waiting for.