As soon as marketing companies find out you’re pregnant you can expect to get a lot of baby-related mail, including pitches from commercial cord-blood banking services. You may be wondering, what’s that about, and could it possibly be worth it?
Umbilical cord blood is the blood left over in the placenta and in the umbilical cord after the birth of the baby. This blood contains stem cells, which can grow into any kind of specialized cell, including blood cells. Because of this, scientists have been able to use the cells to treat more than 80 diseases and disorders, including blood cancers, aplastic anemia, inherited immune system disorders, inherited metabolic disorders and sickle cell disease. Because it’s the umbilical cord, the collection is completely safe and painless for you and your child, though you may have to undergo an additional blood test to check for diseases.
A commercial cord blood bank offers to harvest and store cord blood for the use of your child or family members should s/he develop one of a disease later in life. If you go for a commercial bank, the setup for cord blood banking is typically around $1500-$2000, with an annual fee of about $200-$250 for storage. If you’re considering commercial banking, ask the company for statistics on how often the cord blood from their company has been successfully used. And, consider what the odds are that your child might develop one of the diseases that cord blood treats. If you have certain diseases in your family history, paying to bank cord blood for personal use might be worth the peace of mind. If not, commercial banking could wind up being expensive insurance against something that is extremely unlikely to happen.
There’s also an alternative for your cord blood stem cells: a public or non-profit blood bank, which stores and tissue-types your donation to help others. In the U.S. a nonprofit network of blood banks called Be The Match lets women who meet the donation guidelines donate cord blood through participating hospitals, and in some cases through mail-order kits. In the UK and Canada, national public donation programs exist.
If you’re interested in donating cord blood, let your doctor or midwife know you’re interested between the 28th and 34th weeks of pregnancy and make sure you meet the donation guidelines and are delivering at a participating hospital.