“Let my baby be safe, now and forever.” This is one prayer you will have on your lips throughout your pregnancy. You want the best for your little one’s present and the future. It is during these moments of preparation that you come across a term called umbilical cord blood banking. This brilliant piece of medical advancement claims to protect your baby’s life from a host of diseases and health ailments, not just for now but also in the future. It seems like a one-time insurance for the healthy well-being of your child.
In this MomJunction article, we explain everything about umbilical cord blood banking, how much it costs and the long-term benefits of safekeeping your baby’s umbilical cord.
What Is Umbilical Cord Blood?
The umbilical cord is a blood-rich tissue. The tube links the baby’s tummy to the mother’s placenta within the uterus. It is responsible for the transfer of oxygen and nutrients from the mother’s body to the growing fetus through arteries. The cord also helps in the transmission of deoxygenated blood and other waste material from the fetus to the mother through veins.
The blood found in the umbilical cord is rich in certain special cells called stem cells (1). They are undifferentiated cells, which means that they can transform into any specialized tissue cells even when introduced in the body of an adult. It is the preservation of these cells that forms the fundamental purpose of cord blood storage. Therefore, cord blood banking is invariably stem cell banking as the cells can grow into blood vessels, organs, and tissues.
[ Read: How To Take Care Of Baby Umbilical Cord ]
What Is Cord Blood Banking?
Cord blood banking is the long-term storage of a baby’s umbilical cord blood for the future medical use of the stem cells.
Your baby’s umbilical cord banking involves a series of steps that ensure the cord blood is collected and sent for preservation in time. Let’s see the various steps involved in the banking of cord blood from the source to preservation.
Step 1: Registering with a cord blood bank:
Cord blood banking begins by registering with a public or private umbilical cord blood bank. You register with a cord blood bank around the 34th week of your pregnancy so that you are well-prepared in case of premature delivery (2).
Once the registration is processed, you receive a cord blood preservation kit. This kit contains the necessary equipment for your doctor to collect cord blood during the delivery process at the hospital. You have to hand over this kit to the doctor before you enter the labor room.
Step 2: Cord blood collection
Once your baby is born, the doctor collects the blood from the cord using the specialized equipment provided by the cord blood bank. She will clamp the umbilical cord to avoid blood flow, and then insert a needle into the vein of the cord to collect the blood.
The blood soon starts flowing from the needle through the pipe into a blood collection bag. This process is done immediately after childbirth to prevent blood clotting. Usually, an umbilical cord of a full-term baby yields 30 to 150ml of cord blood.
Since the umbilical cord is discarded anyway, most cord banks collect the remaining cord to salvage some extra stem cells. A blood sample of the mother may also be collected to check the presence of any transmittable disease. This complete process takes less than 10 minutes and you may not even realize when it is done.
[ Read: Newborn Screening Tests ]
Step 3: Transportation and processing
Your doctor will pack the samples in the kit and hand it to you. You then send it to the cord blood bank through a specialized courier service that will transport the kit to the cord bank center. Once the blood reaches the bank, lab personnel treat the blood and the umbilical cord with chemicals and centrifugation to separate the stem cells.
Step 4: Cryopreservation
Stem cells are mixed with a cryogenic solution that keeps the cell intact even in extreme freezing conditions. These bags of stems cells are then placed in large cryogenic containers that have liquid nitrogen in them. Here they are preserved at a temperature of -195-degree Celsius, which enable them to be stored for more than 20 years (3).
Stems cells can be released by the bank if your child needs cell transplantation later in life. This release is made only on receiving a request from the transplanting medical practitioner. Once the request is received and processed, the cord bank releases the cells to the hospital where your child is undergoing the treatment.
What Are The Different Types Of Blood Banks?
You can choose to store the cord blood in a public or private cord blood bank. Here are the differences between the two types:
Public cord blood banking: Cord blood storage in a public bank involves just an initial fee for the collection of the cord blood. This is the biggest benefit of having your baby’s cells stored in a public cord blood bank. Here are some salient features of public cord blood banking:
- Only initial collection fee: There is one-time collection fee, which involves the cost of the kit and its transportation. Many public banks either waive or heavily subsidize this fee.
- No storage fee: You are charged nothing for the storage of the stems cells. This means your stems cells can stay in the bank forever and you do not have to pay a single penny.
- Owner relinquishes ownership: On storing your baby’s stem cells at a public bank, you lose ownership of the cells since they are in public domain. The bank becomes the sole owner of the cells and can supply it to other patients, looking for stem cells.
- Fees applicable on retrieval: You will have to pay a certain fee on retrieval of your baby’s stems cells. This only happens when you approach the bank with the request to withdraw the cells.
- Probable unavailability of your stem cells: Since your baby’s stem cells are available for the public, there are chances for your baby’s cells to get expended. Since the storage is free, public cord blood banks periodically discard a batch of old but viable stems cells.
- But you help someone needy: Your baby’s stem cells may help save the life of someone needy and benefit the health of countless others. Storing your baby’s stem cells with a public cord blood bank is often seen as a donation to the society. It is for this reason that several medical councils and associations recommend public cord blood banks over private funded ones (4).
Private cord blood banking: Private umbilical cord blood banking service providers store your baby’s stem cell exclusively for your use. These cells are not accessible to anyone else. Here are the salient features of private cord blood banking:
- Involves high initial cost: You need to pay a flat first time fee during registration that includes the cost of the kit and the transportation charges.
- Storage charges applicable: An annual charge is levied for the storage of the stems cells at the cryopreservation facility. This charge is usually billed on the child’s birthday.
- You remain the owner: You remain the only owner of your child’s stems cells. They are not available to the public or other customers of the bank under any circumstances.
- 100% availability guaranteed: The cells are not shared with anyone thus they are always there for you, whenever you intend to retrieve them.
- No retrieval fee: Since you are already paying a stipulated fee, you need not pay anything when withdrawing the cells. Most private banks even take care of the transportation charges of the delivery.
The cost of storing the stems cells varies among various private umbilical cord banks. Private banks provide the benefit of exclusivity, but stem cell recall rates are extremely low, as only one in 2,700 babies would ever need stem cells in their life (5). It is for this reason, several private banks offer shared storage facility where you can store and share cells with a selected pool of customers.
Irrespective of the high costs, parents have been opting to save the umbilical cord blood for the advantages it has.
What Are The Benefits Of Cord Blood Banking?
Umbilical cord stem cells can be used in the treatment of a wide array of diseases since they are undesignated cells. Stem cells can be used essentially in the following medical conditions:
- Use in tissue repair: Damaged cells in the tissues can be replaced through the infusion of stems cells. Stem cells replace every damaged cell thus making the tissue as good as new. This hastens the healing process, eventually reducing the patient’s recovery time. One common example of stem cell usage is the repair of tissue damaged due to burns and wounds (6).
- Used in certain cases of immunodeficiency: Stem cells have been used to treat immunodeficiency in babies (7). The defective leukocytes are replaced with stem cells that can reconstitute to form healthy leukocytes. However, the use is not widespread and can be situational.
Banked stem cells have limited autologous usability that is the utility for the donor, your baby. It is because a stem cell from the umbilical cord is quite likely to carry the genetic defects that are present in the other cells of the body. For this reason, healthy donor umbilical cord cells are primarily used for other patients (8).
The stem cells can be efficiently used when they are put in the public domain for the use of patients suffering from diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, and cancers like leukemia and lymphoma (9).
When you store your baby’s blood cells in a public umbilical cord blood bank, you donate the cord blood for the better good of the society. Even if you are storing it in a private bank, you can get it discharged for the treatment of your relatives or friends.
[ Read: Parenting Advice For New Moms ]
How To Select A Cord Blood Bank?
You must look for banks that are accredited and approved by government regulatory bodies. For example, in the US, cord blood banks are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and also by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT). Following are some key attributes of a cord blood bank (both public and private) that you must check for before registration:
- Approved by the regulatory agencies: The blood bank should have all the necessary licenses and government approvals to collect, process and store umbilical cord blood.
- Established cryopreservation laboratory: This is a must-have for private banks since they will charge you a stipulated fee every year. Many banks share their labs or use a lab of a third-party service provider. Make sure you know where exactly they store the blood and how adept the lab conditions are for cryopreservation.
- Prompt courier service: A cord blood bank should have a facility to courier you the collection kit on time. They must also provide you assistance in couriering them the kit with the cord blood. As private banks, usually, include the courier fee in their service charge, they should be able to provide a proficient courier service facility.
- Good brand image: If the blood bank is popular and highly-rated by several independent agencies, then it is quite likely that it has an excellent record of stem cell retrieval.
Choose well-known blood banks as they usually have all the facilities required for storing your baby’s umbilical cord blood.
Which Are The Leading Cord Blood Banks In The World?
Following are the top 10 cord blood banking companies in terms of service and quality standards in the industry (10):
- Cord Blood Registry
- China Cord Blood Corporation
- New York Cord Blood Program
[ Read: Amazing Facts About Babies ]
While these are the best ten options you have, you may also explore multiple bank options based on its proximity to your city, accessibility, and discounts or offers that the banks make to you.
Storing your baby’s umbilical cord blood is a personal choice. While there are clinically-proven benefits of cord blood stems cells, you cannot consider the storage as a ‘biological insurance’ for your child (11).
Stem cells from cord blood have their limitations, but they still harbor promise in treating numerous infantile diseases and disorders, even severe ones like cerebral palsy (12). This coupled with reasonable costs of cord blood storage, can make this option worth a try for the long-term protection of your child’s health.
Have you stored your baby’s cord blood? Let us know your experience by commenting below.
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