Donating Umbilical Cord Blood
If you will soon be having a baby, you may be able to give life to two people: your newborn child and another child or adult who has a life-threatening disease.
The umbilical cord, which is normally discarded after birth, contains cells that can produce healthy blood cells. These cells have the potential to save the life of a patient who has leukemia, lymphoma or another disease that can be treated by a blood stem cell transplant.
Donating umbilical cord blood is safe for you and your baby. After your child is born, the cord blood is collected from the umbilical cord and placenta which are normally discarded after birth. Neither you nor your baby will be given any medications or undergo any invasive medical procedure to collect the cord blood.
Whether or not you can donate your baby's umbilical cord blood to a transplant patient depends on where you live and the hospital at which you will be giving birth. It also requires the cooperation of your doctor who will need to collect the blood stem cells from the umbilical cord and ship them safely to the cord blood bank.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides information about donating cord blood for public use including steps to take before delivering your baby and the procedure used to collect the cord blood after your child is born.
Storing Cord Blood for Private Use
An alternative to donating your baby's cord blood for public use is banking it for private use. Although policy statements issued by leading medical societies such as the American Society for Blood & Marrow Transplantation™ recommend against private cord blood banking, except in certain circumstances, expectant mothers often find brochures promoting private banking in their obstetrician's or pediatrician's waiting room. Some doctors are paid a fee by the private cord blood banks for recruiting mothers for this service.
Contrary to the claims found in some of these brochures, the likelihood that your baby will need the stored cord blood during the first 20 years of life is small - less than one tenth of one percent according to most estimates. If the child develops a blood disorder like leukemia and needs a transplant, the preferred source of stem cells will be from a healthy donor, not the baby's own cord blood.
There are certain instances in which private cord blood banking is recommended. If there is an immediate family member who has a disease that can be treated by a blood stem cell transplant, privately banking the baby's cord blood may be appropriate.
The Sibling Connection program can be a cost effective way to bank a baby's cord blood if the child has a sibling who may need a transplant. The Sibling Connection program collects, processes and stores a baby's umbilical cord blood free of charge for qualified families for up to five years. Call 1-866 861-8435 for more details.
The Be the Match Registry® Related Cord Blood Program offers free cord blood collection and banking if a sibling has a disease that can be treated by transplant. Under some circumstances, it will also bank a baby's cord blood if the baby's parent needs a transplant. For more information phone 1-888-999-6743
If you choose to bank your baby's cord blood privately, you should carefully consider the qualifications of the cord blood bank. The Parents Guide to Cord Blood Foundation lists information about cord blood banks worldwide and suggests questions to ask a bank before storing your baby's cord blood. It also provides information about fees charged by the banks to collect and store the cord blood.