Why is Umbilical Cord Blood Important? Should You Bank It?

Expecting a baby is a much anticipated and exciting time for any soon-to-be parents. But, faced with a lot of decision making, it can also be a very confusing time.Checklist for newborn

Not only do you have to deal with body changes, morning sickness, cravings, preparing your home, adjusting to a new stage of your life, coping with friends, family and even strangers giving you advice, but there are also more important decisions you have to make.

As prospective parents, one choice is whether to donate, bank or discard your baby’s cord blood or tissue.

As you have only one chance to collect and store your newborn’s stem cells – immediately after birth – it is important that you make that decision well before your due date.

What Is The Umbilical Cord? What Does It Do?

As one end is connected to the placenta and the other end to your fetus, it acts as a connection between mother and baby.

Why? Because oxygen and nutrients from your bloodstream is carried to your baby through the placenta and via the umbilical cord. Towards the end of your pregnancy, the placenta also delivers antibodies (that you have) to your baby via the umbilical cord, providing that all important immunity from infections for the first 3 months. So it has a vital role to play during pregnancy.

Inside the umbilical cord you will find:Umbilical Cord

  • 1 vein that carries blood rich in oxygen and nutrients from your placenta to your baby and
  • 2 arteries that return deoxygenated blood and waste products, such as carbon dioxide, from your baby back to the placenta. From there, the waste products are carried into your bloodstream and the carbon dioxide is breathed out.

These blood vessels are enclosed and protected by a sticky substance called Wharton’s jelly.

There are no nerves in the cord, so cutting the cord does not cause any pain to your baby.

After delivery, the cord blood vessels start closing – first the umbilical arteries and then the vein (which may take up to 3 or 4 minutes to completely close).

So what makes the cord blood so special that you would want to save it?

It contains extremely powerful stem cells – cells that have the ability to transform into just about any human cell – that have been successfully used in transplant medicine for more than 20 years.

These stem cells have been used to treat many life-threatening diseases such as leukemia, other cancers, blood disorders, metabolic disorders, and immune diseases.

(I have no association with Maze Cord Blood Bank – just found the video very useful!)

Although the current uses of these potent stem cells are limited, research in regenerative medicine is looking at using them for potential future treatments for autism, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries, heart failure, stroke, cerebral palsy and many other conditions. Therefore, they could potentially replace critical cells in tissues all over the body that have been destroyed or damaged by disease.

Another important factor is that because the placenta and umbilical cord is usually discarded, there is no controversy, political or religious issues or ethical debate (as is with the use of embryo-derived stem cells).

Cord blood storage is a way of preserving potentially life-saving cells that usually get thrown away after birth.

 Stem Cell Collection – How Is It Done?

It is easy and safe for both you and your baby – there is no need to alter the normal birthing process in any way.

After the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut, the cord is wiped with an antiseptic. A needle is inserted into one of the veins in the umbilical cord and then the remaining blood is drawn into a syringe or drained into a collection bag. On average, about 60ml or 2 ounces is usually collected.

It must be collected within 15 minutes following birth and needs to be processed by the laboratory within 48 hours of collection. It is then frozen in cryogenic storage tanks, ready for a possible transplant.

Benefits Of Umbilical Cord Stem Cells

Stem cells from cord blood have unique qualities and advantages over other sources of stem cells such as bone marrow:

  • These “master cells” which are the basic building blocks of life can multiply and are adaptable to become other types of cells,
  • If needed, they are immediately available for use at any time,
  • There is less risk of complications, such as viral infections,  when used in transplants,
  • A perfect match for your baby ( own stem cells) and may be a match for a sibling or other family member,
  • Unlike bone marrow transplants, cord blood transplants do not require a perfect match,
  • There is a lower incidence of graft versus host disease (GvHD).

Cord blood stem cells are used to treat nearly 80 debilitating diseases and have been used in more than 30,000 transplants.

While the odds of ever using banked cord blood may be small, no one debates that it can be lifesaving.

(I have no association with CBR – just chose the video for information)

Banking Choices:

It would be best to discuss with your health care provider the options of either banking with a private cord blood bank or donating to a public cord blood bank.

The difference is that:

  • A private facility offers the option that if, in the future, a member of your family becomes sick with a stem cell treatable disease, it would be available to them or if your child develops a medical condition that could be treated with his/her own cord blood.
  • Donating to a public facility means it is available to anyone requiring a transplant. For more information, the Parent’s Guide To Cord Blood Foundation and Be The Match are great resources.

How Much Does It Cost?

Donating to a public facility is free, but there may be certain requirements, so get all the information up front.

A private facility will charge you – this comparison chart will provide you with an estimate of costs involved.

 “Everything is something you decide to do, and there is nothing you have to do.”

By Denis Waitley

It is not an easy decision to make – there is no right or wrong – it is very much an individual choice, so take your time, do your research, ask a lot of questions, and make your own informed decision.

Helpful Resources:

US Department of Health and Human Services

Be The Match for more information on bone marrow transplantation and whether you meet the basic guidelines to be a donor.

Save The Cord Foundation has an extensive list of private and public cord blood banks.

Canadian Blood Services

 Donating Cord Blood at BC Women’s

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidelines.

Interesting News Articles:

Scientists grow artificial skin from stem cells of umbilical cord

Stem cell hope for palsy kids

Umbilical Cord Draws Focus From More Scientists Seeking Cures

FDA-Regulated Study of Cord Blood Stem Cells to Treat Acquired Hearing Loss Launches