In Cord Blood: Is it Wise to Bank your Baby’s Cord Blood?

Years ago, while in a prenatal, paternal panic, I came upon the prospect of banking my infant’s cord blood. At the time this just seemed outlandishly bizarre and the kind of preventative action reserved for only the certifiably paranoid or pessimistic. But in that classic mode of prenatal panic I thought best to consider the option of banking my unborn child’s cord blood.

I did some light preliminary research, made a few calls and soon found myself being contacted, almost on a weekly basis, by a congenial, but pushy, cord blood representative named Robert (I think). Robert’s job was to inform me, with unwavering conviction, that banking my child’s cord blood was about as important of an action as I could take for my child’s, as well as my family’s, future health. I was required to buy into a plan that involved a $2000 down payment and about $100 annual fee for continuing to bank the cord blood. While compelling, I eventually thought better of it and opted not to bank my child’s cord blood.

Since that very singular moment in time, I have been asked the question countless times, by expecting parents, of whether it is a good idea to bank your baby’s cord blood. My answer is always the same, “Yes and No.”

To give a little background, the practice of banking infant cord blood (it sounds much more macabre than it actually is) involves extracting the umbilical cord blood from the fetal end of the umbilical cord after it has been cut (and yes, after birth). This is done within minutes after birth and is a fairly time sensitive process, so the option to bank your cord blood has a finite window. After the cord blood is collected, it is shipped off to either a private or public cord blood bank, processed and then cryopreserved (AKA frozen) for potential later use. So why bother?

Well, the benefits of cord blood banking are potentially huge, as cord blood stem cells extracted from this process can be used in the treatment of several life-threatening diseases, and play an important role in the treatment of blood and immune system related genetic diseases, cancers, and blood disorders. And cord blood stem cells are not just an insurance policy for your child; they may also be used for mothers and a percentage of siblings (depending) for treatment of a whole host of diseases. For instance, studies have shown that cord blood has unique advantages over traditional bone marrow transplantation, particularly in children, and can be life-saving in rare cases where a suitable bone-marrow donor cannot be found.

All of this provides a fairly convincing argument for banking cord blood. So why didn’t I do it. Well in part because it is a racket. Not a scam, but a racket, filled with exaggeration, misinformation and scare tactics. To explain, cord blood banking is a worthwhile undertaking that could potentially save lives, however where you choose to bank your cord blood makes all of the difference. There is public cord blood banking and there is private cord blood banking and the differences between the two are significant.

Admittedly I was ignorant of the option of public cord blood banking when I opted not to bank my infants cord blood. I only knew of the private option, which required a hefty initial fee and subsequent storage fee to maintain that piece of mind. Private banking is costly (a few thousand dollars over time). Private banks store cord blood with a link to the identity of the donor, so that the family may retrieve it later if it is needed. Many of these private enterprises are purely enterprises, subject to fluctuations in the market, and the ability to use the cord blood will ultimately depend on the long-term commercial viability of the enterprise (some private cord blood banks are publicly traded on the stock market). Therefore your cord blood may find itself homeless if the private bank goes belly up.

One key component to the argument for not banking privately is that, unless you have family history of the sort of diseases that would benefit from the use of cord blood stem cells (heart disease and various neurological diseases) the likelihood of ultimately using the cord blood is slim. In addition, much controversy (ethical and otherwise) has surrounded the practice of the private banking of cord blood with several in the medical community taking issue with the standards and practices of many private blood banks in this industry. The American Academy of Pediatrics policy states that “private storage of cord blood as ‘biological insurance’ is unwise” unless there is a family member with a current or potential need to undergo a stem cell transplantation.

This is where the public option comes in (not to be confused with the controversial “public option” tied to the recent health care reform bill). Public cord blood banking is, in theory, the same as the private option with one distinct difference: the cord blood is not permanently linked to the donor. Therefore the donation is largely altruistic and the donation is washed of all identifying information after a short period of initial testing and deposited into a larger collection for the use of anyone in need. The public banking (in most cases) is facilitated by the public cord blood bank (collection, cataloging, etc) and done free of charge.

There is much more to consider in this public vs. private debate, and even more to question in regards to whether to bank cord blood at all: Issues of the viability and availability of blood donations, ethical issues, issues of ownership and use, etc. All things considered, private banking seems to make the most sense if you have a significant family history of disease (specifically diseases that would benefit from use of cord blood stem cells) and the use of such stem cells seems probable. Public banking seems to be the sensible, and painless, option for the rest of us who just want to make a contribution to the betterment (and possible cure) of society and its ills.

What are your thoughts about cord blood banking? Has anyone out there had positive or negative experiences with public or private banks? Did anyone opt out because of the prohibitive high cost? Do you have particular ethical concerns with the practice? Has anyone ever actually retrieved a donation for medical use?

75 comments

Americord Registry

Consider Americord for cord blood banking – Americord Donates Cord Blood Processing and Storage Costs for Children with Cerebral Palsy for parents that have banked with them. See http://cordadvantage.com/press-room.html

Mindy B.
Mindy B.5 years ago

My child had a life saving stem cell transplant from an adult donor. Having lived in the culture of pediatric oncology for months, meeting families going through bone marrow, stem cell and cord blood transplants, I encourage the public banking of cord blood. It can save a life. Additionally, get yourself registered in the national bone marrow registry, www.marrow.org and donate blood and platelets at your blood bank.

Melissa W.
Melissa W.5 years ago

Personally, I would rather my child received this blood at the beginning of her life, so that she has the healthiest start possible. Why deny them this at birth, just to save it "in case"?? By cutting the cords immediately after birth we are robbing our children of all the nutrients, oxygen and stem cells that will likely allow them to be healthier as they grow. It causes a sort of suffocation, it is primitive and it is cruel. The cord should be left intact until it quits pulsating on its own, at least one hour after birth.

Sara N.
Sara N.6 years ago

i love the public banking idea, what a wonderful way to help others at no cost to yourself or others.

Emily Weibel
Emily W.6 years ago

I think its a good idea to bank your childs cord blood. You might never need it, but than again you might never need your life or house insurance. In many illnesses, you cannot use donated blood. You need either a close relative or your own to reduce risks, and increase sucess. By banking your babies blood, it is good choice.

Daniela P.
Daniela P.6 years ago

I think mothers should all do this the reason I think that is because with the cord blood stem cells it help cure 80different diseases and it is encouraged for mothers to do this. Also your baby's cord blood is a valuable source of precious stem cells that can be used for your baby or an immediate family member.

C W
c w.6 years ago

Interesting....

Grace Johnson
Grace Johnson6 years ago

interesting

Ms.R. S.
MsR S.6 years ago

Always good to help if possible.

Ilene R.
Ilene R.6 years ago

Two things to clarify re: public banks. First, not all hospitals are set up to collect and donate, so make sure before you commit to a delivery hospital.
Also, its important to recognize that once your baby's cord blood goes into the cord blood system, it belongs to everyone; there's no way for you to get 'your' blood back if you need it. But you may get a good match from the public bank.
What stands in the way (like with many things) is money. If the private banks were less expensive more of us would do it. See this non-commercial site [ www.parentsguidecordblood.org ] where they list all the banks - public and private - and have charts on cost. Some don't charge annual storage fees, which add up over 20 years.