The great cord blood debate
The latest “life insurance policy” is cord blood banking. Hear from experts and parents about what’s involved so you can make the right decision for your family.
Parents-to-be now have the option to save their child's cord blood and, along with it, valuable stem cells. Get the details about cord blood banking and the factors to consider when making your decision.
The cord blood banking procedure
Cord blood banking can only be done right after baby's birth in the delivery room, which is why parents need to make this decision in advance. The umbilical cord is clamped and cut in the usual manner. The end attached to the placenta is the source of cord blood and stem cells. A collection kit is used to retrieve the blood and, according to the Cord Blood Registry (CBR) spokesperson, the procedure is simple, painless and safe.
However, some are advocating for delayed rather than immediate clamping of the umbilical cord. Nurse-midwife Amy Romano, who banked the cord blood of one of her two children, says, "I have concerns about the marketing of cord blood banking and the fact that to bank the 'optimal' amount the cord has to be clamped immediately." She cites trials that found that increased blood volume reduced likelihood of anemia and resulted in higher body temperatures in infants who underwent delayed clamping.
Reasons not to bank cord blood
Doula, childbirth educator and mother of eight, Andrya Lewis, comments on the growing movement against banking cord blood. "Instead of saving for future calamity, parents can ensure their baby gets that blood in their system to use at the beginning of their life when they're vulnerable."
Candace L. is a mother of two whose daughter was born with a heart condition that could potentially be helped with cord blood stem cell treatment in the future. "It was a difficult decision whether or not to bank our son's cord blood in the hopes that it would be of use to our daughter." Ultimately, there were too many "ifs." "We're not wealthy, but we could afford the banking if it had seemed like the right thing to do. It appeared to be money thrown away just to make us feel like we were doing 'something.'"
Reasons to bank cord blood
Cord blood is used to treat almost 80 life-threatening diseases including leukemia, lymphoma, sickle-cell anemia and bone marrow failure syndromes. There are plenty of other reasons parents bank their newborn's cord blood:
- The child could develop a hereditary condition, e.g., blood disorders, that could be treated with stem-cell-rich cord blood.
- The cord blood may be of use to a sibling or other family member.
- A child of mixed ethnicity can have a more difficult time finding a stem cell match.
- Stem cell research is advancing daily and cord blood stem cell transplants could help curb or reverse the progression of diseases that, until now, have had no cure, e.g. cerebral palsy, heart disease or spinal cord injuries.
"While we shudder to think about the diseases and illnesses our children could get, we wanted to make sure we had every option to help them should they be critically ill," says Ivette M., mother of two.
Can you afford cord blood banking?
According to CBR and The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, the cost for processing cord blood and the first year of banking is approximately $2,000. Annual storage fees run around $125. Some banks offer interest-free payment plans, gift registries or opportunities to win free cord blood banking.
There are a number of smaller cord blood banks like M.A.Z.E. that aim to "lower the costs of private banking so finances aren't in the way of making a choice. We don't charge annual storage fees like the big banks," says their spokesperson.
Many parents consider the cost of cord blood banking as an investment with long-term benefits. Mom Michelle L. explains, "It's like taking out insurance. We hope to never need it but if it's not there and we need it in the future, we'll never forgive ourselves for not doing it."
Paying it forward
Some parents choose to donate their newborn's cord blood to a public bank for free. "We found it would be better if we donated the blood instead of selfishly hoarding it in the off-chance our son needed it," says mom Jen H. "If everyone donated, everyone would have access to blood if they ever need it. My biggest concern is that most parents aren't aware of the donation option."
Mom Linda W. says, "I decided to donate the cord blood because I thought it was too pricey to bank. Lupus and cancer both run in my family and my husband's and I think there is a future in cord blood research. That was a good option for me and a great way to give back."
Besides the satisfaction of helping others, your child might still benefit from your donation. Marra Francis, an OB-GYN and mom of three, says, "If a public bank has your sample, it's free to you. However, there's no guarantee that your child's cord blood will be there if you need it."
Most banks -- there are both public and private enterprises -- offer information kits and details online to help parents get the information they need to make the best choice for their family.
The CBR spokesperson says, "More than 90 percent of cord blood is thrown away as medical waste. Our hope is that all parents have access to accurate information so that they may make an informed choice about whether to save cord blood for themselves or donate it to a public bank. We hope that less will be thrown away."