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Understanding Cord Blood Banking
Before your baby is born, it receives its nutrition and oxygen through blood that passes through the umbilical cord and placenta. Waste products and deoxygenated blood are returned to the mother through the umbilical cord, while blood continues to circulate through the umbilical cord through the baby's birth. At the time of the birth, the umbilical cord is usually clamped, halting this circulation, although without clamping, the umbilical cord will cease circulation on its own.
It’s possible to collect the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after clamping. This umbilical cord blood is rich with a particular type of cell known as stem cells, which have the potential to develop into a variety of different types of cells. A variety of diseases and conditions can be treated with umbilical cord blood transplants, making cord blood a solid investment in your child’s future.
Unfortunately, unless the umbilical cord blood is collected at the request of the baby's parents, it’s usually discarded as medical waste along with the umbilical cord itself and the placenta.
If you want to allow for the possibility of your child's umbilical cord blood to be used in the future, then the umbilical cord blood must be collected at the time of delivery and properly stored and preserved. Storage and preservation are done at a cord blood bank. When the blood is received – generally within 24 hours following the baby's birth – a small sample is removed for testing. The blood is tested for the presence of blood borne diseases such as Hepatitis or HIV, along with bacterial infections or contaminations that may have occurred during the collection process. The blood is also typed so that it can be matched with potential recipients in the future. A chemical preservative known as cryopreservant is added to prevent damage to the cells during the storage process. The blood sample is then cooled to increasingly lower temperatures and finally frozen in liquid nitrogen for preservation.
The cord blood bank may be either a private, for profit, cord blood bank, or a public blood bank. If you choose a private cord blood bank, you’ll pay processing fees the first year along with an annual storage fee. If you choose a public cord blood bank, there’s no cost for making a donation.
If you store your child's umbilical cord blood in a private bank, only you and those you designate can use the blood, assuming it is a match. On the other hand, if you donate your child's umbilical cord blood to a public cord blood bank, it will go to the first person who needs it and for whom it is a match. Are you more likely to find a matching donor if you have some of your child's umbilical cord blood as a resource? Perhaps, but that must be weighed against the possibility that you or your child will develop a condition for which umbilical cord blood transplant treatment is effective. You should be aware, however, that there are some public cord blood banks that allow free storage of umbilical cord blood for siblings.
If you have a child with a genetic condition or a disease for which cord blood transplant is an effective form of treatment, you’ll probably want to use a private bank so that you’ll have access to the cord blood in the future. If, however, you don’t have such a child or there’s no risk of genetic conditions in your family, it may make more sense to donate your child's umbilical cord blood to a public cord blood bank. Of course, only you can make the correct decision for your family, so weigh the pros and cons carefully before committing to either option.