Posted: Apr 19, 2012 5:00 PM
You just decided on your child's name, finalized your birth plan and even updated your life insurance policy. Phew! But just when you thought you'd crossed most of the important items off your pregnancy checklist, you're faced with yet another one that you've read about online, seen in your pregnancy magazines and heard about in your birthing classes. Should you or shouldn't you bank your child's cord blood? Read on for the top things you should consider when deciding if private (or public) cord blood banking is right for you and your baby.

What is it?

Cord blood banking involves collecting blood left in your newborn's umbilical cord and placenta and storing it for future medical use. Cord blood contains potentially lifesaving cells, called stem cells, which have the ability to develop into other types of cells, so they can help repair organs, tissues and blood vessels, as well as treat many diseases.

Two ways to bank: Public and private

For a fee, a private cord blood bank will collect, process, freeze and store your baby's stem-cell-rich umbilical cord blood for your family's future medical use. It's a way for families to save their baby's cord blood exclusively for their family.

Public cord blood banks don't store donations for a particular person. Instead, the banked cord blood is available either to anyone needing a cord blood transplant, or it may be sold for medical research.

How does it work?

  • After you've delivered your baby (vaginally or by caesarean section) and the cord has been clamped and cut, your medical provider inserts a needle into the umbilical vein on the part of the cord that's still attached to the placenta. (The needle will not be anywhere near your baby.)
  • The blood either drips into a bag or vial or is pulled out with a syringe.

  • Typically, three to five ounces are collected.

    Cord blood contains potentially lifesaving cells called stem cells...
  • The entire process takes fewer than ten minutes.

  • The blood is shipped to a cord blood bank where it's tested, processed and frozen for long-term storage.

How can it help?

If someone in your family needs a stem cell transplant to treat certain diseases, such as leukemia, sickle cell anemia, lymphomas or an immune deficiency -- and if your baby's cord blood is a good match -- it might help save his or her life. According to research, cord blood has been used successfully to treat more than 70 different diseases, including some cancers, blood disorders and immune deficiencies. These have included leukemia, sickle cell anemia, aplastic anemia, thalassemia, Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

How much does it cost?

Private cord blood banks usually charge an enrollment and collection fee ranging from about $775 to $2,150, plus annual storage fees ranging from about $85 to $150. Some banks include the first year's storage as part of your initial payment and lower your annual payment if you put down more money initially.

Donating cord blood to a public cord blood bank is free. Public cord blood banks affiliated with the Be The Match Registry cover the costs of collecting, processing and storing cord blood units. When a stored unit is used for transplant, a fee is charged to that patient's insurance company.

Are there downsides?

In theory, cord blood banking is a great idea because you can liken it to a form of medical insurance for your family. But private cord blood banking has been the source of a heated debate in the scientific and medical communities and is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) or the American Medical Association (AMA) because the benefits are too remote to justify the costs.

The AMA does, however, recommend private banking if the infant has a full sibling with a malignant or genetic condition treatable with cord blood transplantation. These conditions include Leukemia, immune deficiencies, such as severe combined immune deficiency (SCID), lymphoma (Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's), aplastic anemia, sickle cell anemia, Krabbe's disease and thalassemia. But, even so, according to WebMD, a brother or a sister has only a 25 percent chance of being a perfect genetic match.

So what should you do?

Advocates of cord blood banking champion it because they feel advances are being made in cord blood research every day. But no one knows how stem cells will be used down the road. Researchers hope that they will be used to treat conditions like Alzheimer's and spinal cord damage. And hopefully one day this will be possible. In the meantime, it's up to you to decide if you want to bank privately and have the "insurance policy" for your family just in case or donate it publicly, making the stem cells available to someone who may need them and also increase the diversity and number of cord blood units available.

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