Should You Store Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord Blood?

Umbilical Cord Blood

You might have seen brochures in your doctor’s office or ads on the internet about companies that offer to store your baby’s umbilical cord blood for “biological insurance.” Some states have laws requiring doctors to tell patients about cord blood banking options.

If you don’t store the blood, it will simply be discarded, so why not?

Here’s the main reason: Chances are slim that your child or one of your child’s siblings will ever need it, and you could end up spending a lot of money to store cord blood in perpetuity.

Cord blood refers to the blood in the umbilical cord and placenta after your baby is born and the cord is cut. It is one of three sources of stem cells that can be used to treat certain cancers and genetic and blood disorders. The other two sources are bone marrow and the blood circulating in the body, which is called peripheral blood.

Private cord blood banks that market their services to expectant parents on average charge about $1,500 up front and $100 per year for storage. if you sign up with a private bank, it will send you a kit that your doctor or midwife will use to collect the cord blood and cord tissue. Typically, a medical courier will pick up the kit from you at the hospital and ship it to the cord blood bank.

However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not recommend that parents routinely store newborns’ cord blood. As ACOG notes, for many conditions that could be treated with cord blood, the patient’s own cord blood can’t be used. That’s because the condition is also present in the patient’s cord blood, so stem cells from a healthy donor must be used instead. One advantage of using stem cells from cord blood instead of bone marrow or peripheral blood is that the donor and recipient don’t need to match as closely for a successful transplant.

However, if you have an older child with a life-threatening disease that could be treated with a cord blood transplant, you might be able to store your newborn’s cord blood for his or her sibling’s use at a public cord blood bank. Be the Match, the organization that coordinates cord blood collection for U.S. public banks, lists seven that will store cord blood for use by a sick sibling. Some might bill your insurance company for the service, but others may offer it for a nominal cost or for free.

If you decide not to store your baby’s cord blood in case your child or other relative might need it, you might consider donating it to a public cord blood bank.  It won’t cost you anything, and it is painless to you and your baby, because the blood is collected after the cord is cut.

If you’re interested, talk to your doctor or midwife between the 28th and 34th week of your pregnancy about donating the cord blood. He or she should be able to tell you whether you meet the guidelines for donation.

Not everyone is a candidate for donating cord blood to a public bank. Be the Match lists these reasons for why you can’t donate:

  • You’re having twins. If they’re fraternal twins, they have different tissue types, and it’s possible that the cord blood from each umbilical cord could be mixed up during collection.
  • You’re younger than 18. Some states do allow younger women to donate, but you should check with a public cord blood bank in your state to see if it’s one of them.
  • You’ve had cancer (if you’ve had cured basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer or cervical cancer you might still be eligible to donate, though).
  • You’ve had an organ or tissue transplant within the previous 12 months. A no
  • Your baby has a genetic disorder such as cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome or abnormalities of the arms, legs, hands or feet (less serious abnormalities, such as a cleft palate, would not exclude you from donating your baby’s cord blood).
  • You have a blood infection or there is an infection in the umbilical cord.
  • You deliver outside of the continental United States, which means the cord blood might not make it to a bank soon enough (however, a half-dozen hospitals in Hawaii have their own public cord blood banks if you deliver in that state).

You also need to check whether your hospital collects cord blood. Be the Match lists the hospitals that do by state. Unfortunately, because public cord blood banks, not donors, cover the cost of collection and storage, they can’t accept donations at every hospital.

Rita Rubin
An ob-gyn's daughter and the mother of two teenage daughters, Rita Rubin has covered medicine ever since earning a BSJ from Northwestern. Based in Washington, D.C., Rita has written for WebMD, JAMA, POZ, and NBCNews.com and previously worked for USA TODAY. She has won numerous awards for her stories and authored What If I Have a C-Section? Rita earned an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins and spent a year as a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. You can follow her on Twitter @RitaRubin.

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