Cutting the Cord ( … and keeping it!)

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10 things you need to know about your baby’s umbilical cord.

Stocking the nursery with diapers and wipes and stocking up on pristine new Onesies are typical actions of expectant parents. Facing a long list of plans and anticipations when you’re expecting a child does not necessarily send collecting, storing or donating umbilical cord blood to the top of your list of preparations.

The uses and benefits of banking newborn cord blood are swiftly gaining notoriety. With the spotlight on stem cell research and cord blood storage shining brighter than ever before, expectant parents now face difficult questions beyond what they should name their baby long before he is born.

This increasingly popular trend has many parents-to-be wondering what is cord blood, and what happens to the blood once it is collected? Is banking a newborn’s cord blood something that needs serious consideration? Are there any risks involved with collecting cord blood and what are the ramifications if parents don’t opt to store their baby’s cord blood?

1. What is Cord Blood?

There is a great deal of political and personal attention being paid to stem cells, their abilities and benefits. A baby’s umbilical cord blood and the blood in the placenta are rich in these highly publicized stem cells. Similar to bone marrow cells, stem cells are immature blood cells that are able to change and mature into any type of blood cell as a baby or child grows.

Many medical experts often rely heavily on the hopes of treating and hopefully curing more than 75 diseases with stem cell transplants. It is these immature stem cells that are being transplanted into patients with blood diseases such as leukemia, aplastic anemia and sickle cell anemia.

2. The Benefits of Banking

Because cord blood stem cells are currently being used to treat a variety of serious illnesses, many parents appreciate having the peace of mind from knowing they’ve saved their baby’s cord blood. “I hope we never need to use it, but at least we know it’s there if we need it,” says Virginia Norton as she explains her decision to store her first child’s cord blood. “We’re planning on banking our next child’s cord blood as well,” adds Norton, who is expecting her second child.

“Related stem cells are the preferred treatment protocol of many transplant physicians,” notes pediatrician Jonathon Kaufman, M.D. Using related stem cells for a transplant offers the patient a 63 percent survival rate, which is more than twice the survival rate of 29 percent for patients who receive unrelated stem cells transplants from a public bank.

Rita Kennen, associate manager of communications for Cord Blood Registry (CBR) explains, “Cord Blood Registry has provided genetically related stem cells that have been used in more than 40 transplants.”

3. How is it Collected?

If you decide to collect your baby’s cord blood, your designated cord blood bank sends you a collection kit containing the supplies to gather the cord blood. You should receive this prior to your due date and remember to keep it packed in the bag you’ll take to the hospital.

When your child’s umbilical cord is cut, a health care professional collects the blood from the remaining umbilical cord and placenta into a syringe or blood bag. This is a simple process that is accomplished relatively quickly and can occur whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or C-section.

Once the cord blood is packaged, it needs to be swiftly transported to the cord blood bank. Most storage facilities offer a medical courier as part of the collection and storage fee in order to expedite efficient processing of the cord blood. At the cord blood bank, the stem cells are removed from the cord blood and they are placed into liquid nitrogen for storage.


4. How Long Can it Be Stored?

The New York State Health Department Guidelines, under which CBR operates, states that umbilical cord blood stem cells can be stored indefinitely under liquid nitrogen. Current research conducted by CBR states that cord blood stem cells that have been stored continuously for 15 years have the same composition as they did at the time of storage. “All science involving cryogenic storage of cells also indicates that the cells should remain viable indefinitely,” adds Kennen.

5. What Does it Cost?

“It currently costs $1,975 to collect, process and store a baby’s cord blood for the first year at CBR, and storage for additional years is $125.00 per year,” says Kennen. The cost of the yearly storage is typically written into the contract for 18 years and generally does not increase.

After 18 years, the stored cord blood, and the cost for additional storage, reverts to the child. “The cost may stay the same or go up. That has not been determined yet,” Kennen adds.

6. What is the Trend?

Fearing illness or viewing cord blood storage as a variation of an insurance policy, cord blood banking is steadily on the rise. “There has been an increase of 15 percent in the number of families who have enrolled with CBR over last year,” says Kennen.

7. What are the Risks?

“There are no risks to the mother or child,” explains Randy Wittman, M.D., an OB/GYN. Because cord blood collection involves the post delivery placenta and severed umbilical cord, neither the baby nor the mother feels anything or experiences any discomfort as a result of the collection. Additionally, if the pregnancy or delivery is high risk, cord blood collection can usually still occur.


8. When Do You Need to Make the Decision?

Most cord blood banks prefer a commitment by the time a woman is in week 34 of her pregnancy. “Many women experience premature or pre-term labor, and knowing by that time gives everyone enough time to properly collect and process a baby’s cord blood,” Kennen adds.

9. Can Cord Blood Be Donated?

Believing cord blood is of significant medical value, many new parents elect to donate their child’s cord blood. Once the donated cord blood is processed and stored at a cord blood bank, it is listed on the National Marrow Donor Program registry and becomes available to patients all over the world who are searching for a match. Your child’s donated cord blood can be transplanted into any patient whose doctor selects the cord as a match for that patient.

It is important to understand that donating cord blood to a public bank is different than storing the cord blood because donated cord blood is not reserved for the donor family’s specific use.

10. Making the Final Decision

Deciding whether to bank or donate your child’s cord blood is a personal decision. Weighing several factors such as the financial obligation, family medical history, and personal and religious beliefs are just a few of the factors to consider when making this decision. “I felt a great deal of pressure from friends and all of the literature I received about cord blood storage,” confides new mother Danielle Pease. “I worried that my decision to not store his cord blood would mean that I didn’t love my son enough to spend the money or make that type of effort.”

“It is important for expectant parents to understand that this decision is not indicative of their love for their child or ability to parent,” notes Family Therapist and Child Advocate Specialist, Diana Turner. Educating parents-to-be on all of their options, Turner urges her clients to research a variety of cord blood bank options and procedures. “Ultimately, expectant parents have to follow their hearts and intuition when making this type of decision,” says Turner.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a mother and freelance writer.

major players in cord blood banking

Cord Blood Registry – 888-932-6568 • cordblood.com
The first year’s cost, which includes a processing and banking fee, overnight medical courier and first year annual storage, is $1,975. Payment plans are available. Pre-payment discount is available.

LifebankUSA – 877-543-3226 • lifebankusa.com
The one-time enrollment fee is $1,850. Payment plans are available. After that, annual payments are $125. A pre-payment discount is available. LifebankUSA also offers placenta-derived stem cell storage for an additional fee.

ViaCord – 866-668-4895 • viacord.com
Initial fee and first year’s storage is $2,050. Payment plans are available. After that, annual storage fee is $125 per year. Pre-payment options are available and create a discount.

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