Everything You Need to Know About Cord Blood Banking

Why More Families Are Using Cord Blood Banking

From choosing names and nursery themes to developing a birth plan, there are a lot of things to consider before your baby is born. Even your doctor may present you with a lot of options such as options for pre-natal testing, ultrasounds, blood tests, and even about cord blood banking. In fact, you may have so many things to consider in those first few months that you feel like your head might explode.

And while it may seem like cord blood banking is something you can put off until delivery, this is a decision you might want to consider early on in pregnancy, especially because there is some planning that needs to take place should you decide to bank your baby's cord blood.

What Is Cord Blood?

Taken from the newborn's umbilical cord shortly after birth, cord blood is a rich source of stem cells. Comprised of the extra blood that is left in the baby's umbilical cord and placenta after the cord is cut, many people confuse cord blood cells with embryonic stem cells. But embryonic stem cells are taken from an embryo where cord blood cells are taken from the umbilical cord.

Babies have no need for this leftover blood after they are born. But, proponents of cord blood storage along with researchers no longer feel it should be discarded. Instead, they have discovered that cord blood contains cells that that can be used to treat disorders and illnesses including several forms of leukemia, lymphoma, anemia, immune system disorders, neurological disorders, and more.

While cord blood contains all the same components as normal blood including red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and even plasma, it also contains hematopoietic stem cells. Similar to the stem cells found in bone marrow, these cells can be used to treat many types of diseases.

What makes hematopoietic cells special is that they can make copies of themselves. For instance, a normal skin cell can only make another skin cell. But hematopoietic cells can mature into different types of blood cells in the body. For this reason, these cells can be used to treat more than 70 types of diseases, genetic disorders, neurological disorders, and some forms of cancer.

What's more, stem cells from cord blood can be given to more people than those from bone marrow, which means more matches are possible when a cord blood transplant is used. And, the stem cells in cord blood are less likely to be rejected unlike than those in bone marrow. Plus, cord blood is easy to collect compared to bone marrow, which poses some risks and can be extremely painful for the donor. Meanwhile, collecting cord blood is simple, painless, and takes less than ten minutes.

What Is Cord Blood Banking

Over the last few years, cord blood banking has become more popular. In fact, more and more doctors are making information regarding the procedure available to their pregnant patients. But deciding if cord blood banking is the right decision for you and your family is an extremely personal one. There are also several options to consider. You have the option of donating your baby's cord blood at no cost. You can store it privately for a fee. Or, you can choose to do nothing and discard it.

Furthermore, it is important to recognize that just like community or hospital blood banks, banks for cord blood are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Consequently, the FDA has developed standards regulating future cord blood collection and storage. If you choose to bank your baby's cord blood, you need to be sure you select a reputable cord blood bank.

How It Works

Cord blood collection happens immediately after your baby is delivered. After cutting and clamping the umbilical cord, the doctor, nurse, or a technician uses a needle to draw blood from the umbilical cord vein. Doing this after the cord is cut and clamped prevents any pain, discomfort, or harm. What's more, there are no health risks associated with cord blood collection. The process is completely safe and can be done after both vaginal and cesarean births.

Typically, cord blood is collected in a bag and sent off via courier to the cord blood bank. Once there, the cord blood is processed and given an identifying number. Before it can be frozen and stored, the stem cells are separated from the rest of the blood. Then, they are stored cryogenically, or frozen in liquid nitrogen.

In theory, these stem cells can be stored forever, but keep in mind that cord blood research only began in the late 1970s. So, the maximum time for storage and usage has not yet been determined. However, there have been cord blood stem cells stored for more than a decade that have been transplanted successfully. As a result, researchers know that they will last at least that long.

Once ready for use, the stem cells can be thawed and used as needed. In most cases though, transplants are limited to children or young adults because the amount that is collected from an umbilical cord is usually small. As a result, it is typically not enough for an adult. The larger people are, the more stem cells they need for a successful transplant. And, there is just not much cord blood collected after delivery.

When it comes to cord blood banking, keep in mind that while this is a simple procedure, it is not a routine one. Instead, it is one that takes some planning beforehand. So, if this process is something you are considering, you need to make plans early in your pregnancy including talking with your doctors and your birthing center. You also will need to get the collection kit before you deliver and have it with you at the hospital.

Exploring Banking Options

Overall, there are two types of banks that store cord blood. These include both public banks and private banks. For instance, public banks collect donated cord blood for research as well as for use by anyone who may need it. Usually, there is no charge associated with banking your baby's cord blood in a public bank, unless the doctor or birthing center charges a fee for its collection. When couples go this route, the cord blood is collected after birth and anonymously marked with the goal of hopefully benefitting another child one day.

Fees and Storage

Meanwhile, private banks, which usually charge a fee of around $1000 to $3000 to store cord blood, keep the blood for your use. Often, these banks are utilized by families who want to save the cord blood for personal use by a family member. Many times, families make this decision because they have another child who has an illness or disease that could be treated with the cord blood. Less commonly, people choose to bank their newborn's cord blood as a type of insurance policy in case something should happen down the road and they need it.

Most doctors, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA), do not recommend storing cord blood "in case you need it one day" because the costs associated with the cord blood banking are high and the chances of a family member ever using the cord blood are slim. What's more, research has never confirmed that self-donated cells make transplantations safer or more effective.

Where to Find This Service

Finally, it is important to recognize that cord blood banking is still a relatively new medical procedure. In fact, some hospitals do not yet offer this service; or they aren't affiliated with a public or private bank that offers the service. To determine if cord blood banking is available in your area, you can contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross. You also can check the Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation, which lists both public and private blood banks by geographic area. Another good resource is the National Marrow Donor Program, which provides information on registered cord-blood facilities that accept donations.

If you do decide to utilize private storage, be sure to select a cord blood bank that is registered with the FDA and accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB). AABB accreditation is the gold standard in cord blood banking.

A Word From Verywell

Cord blood banking is an extremely personal decision and one only you and your partner can make along with guidance from your doctor. In order to know which decision is right for you, talk with your doctor early on in your pregnancy. Waiting until you are in the delivery room is not recommended because the appropriate collection materials may not be available. Plus, you will likely have other more pressing things on your mind. As long as you educate yourself with all the facts and plan in advance, you can make the decision that is right for you.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • "Cord Blood Banking." Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. 2019. https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/Cord-Blood-Banking

  • "Cord Blood Banking - Frequently Asked Questions." The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, February 2016. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Cord-Blood-Banking?IsMobileSet=false