FEB. 2011 - Banking Your Newborn’s Cord Blood
On the day you deliver your baby, you'll probably be overcome with visions of your future with your child — first smiles and steps, birthday parties and sports events, and holidays and life milestones. Your little one ever becoming seriously ill will probably be the last thing on your mind.
But some parents do consider the possibility that a serious illness might someday affect their child — and they make a choice on the day their baby is born that might affect the future health of that child or even their other children. They're deciding to bank their newborn's cord blood.
So, what is cord-blood banking, and is it right for you?
After a baby is delivered, the mother's body releases the placenta, the temporary organ that transferred oxygen and nutrients to the baby while in the mother's uterus. Until recently, in most cases the umbilical cord and placenta were discarded after birth without a second thought. But during the 1970s, researchers discovered that umbilical cord blood could supply the same kinds of blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells as a bone marrow donor. And so, umbilical cord blood began to be collected and stored.
What are blood-forming stem cells? These are primitive (early) cells found primarily in the bone marrow that are capable of developing into the three types of mature blood cells present in our blood — red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Cord-blood stem cells may also have the potential to give rise to other cell types in the body.
Some serious illnesses (such as certain childhood cancers, blood diseases, and immune system disorders) require radiation and chemotherapy treatments to kill diseased cells in the body. Unfortunately, these treatments also kill many "good" cells along with the bad, including healthy stem cells that live in the bone marrow.
Depending on the type of disease and treatment needed, some kids need a bone marrow transplant (from a donor whose marrow cells closely match their own). Blood-forming stem cells from the donor are transplanted into the child who is ill, and those cells go on to manufacture new, healthy blood cells and enhance the child's blood-producing and immune system capability.
How It Works
Collection of the cord blood takes place shortly after birth in both vaginal and cesarean (C-section) deliveries. It's done using a specific kit that parents must order ahead of time from their chosen cord-blood bank.
After a vaginal delivery, the umbilical cord is clamped on both sides and cut. In most cases, an experienced obstetrician or nurse collects the cord blood before the placenta is delivered. One side of the umbilical cord is unclamped, and a small tube is passed into the umbilical vein to collect the blood. After blood has been collected from the cord, needles are placed on the side of the surface of the placenta that was connected to the fetus to collect more blood and cells from the large blood vessels that fed the fetus.
During cesarean births, cord-blood collection is more complicated because the obstetrician's primary focus in the operating room is tending to the surgical concerns of the mother. After the baby has been safely delivered and the mother's uterus has been sutured, the cord blood can be collected. However, less cord blood is usually collected when delivery is by C-section. The amount collected is critical because the more blood collected, the more stem cells collected. If using the stem cells ever becomes necessary, having more to implant increases the chances of engraftment (successful transplantation).
After cord-blood collection has taken place, the blood is placed into bags or syringes and is usually taken by courier to the cord-blood bank. Once there, the sample is given an identifying number. Then the stem cells are separated from the rest of the blood and are stored cryogenically (frozen in liquid nitrogen) in a collection facility, also known as a cord-blood bank. Then, if needed, blood-forming stem cells can be thawed and used in either autologous procedures (when someone receives his or her own umbilical cord blood in a transplant) or allogeneic procedures (when a person receives umbilical cord blood donated from someone else — a sibling, close relative or anonymous donor).
How long can blood-forming stem cells last when properly stored? Theoretically, stem cells should last forever, but cord-blood research only began in the 1970s, so the maximum time for storage and potential usage are still being determined. Blood-forming stem cells that have been stored for more than a decade have been used successfully in transplants.
Donating Your Baby's Cord Blood
You may decide that instead of banking your newborn's cord blood, you'd like to donate it to a nonprofit cord-blood bank for research or to save the life of another child. By choosing this option, the cord blood will still be collected after your child's birth, but it will be anonymously marked and sent to a public bank. However, if your child or a family member later develops a disease that requires a bone marrow transplant for treatment, you won't be able to obtain the donation you made to the bank.
If you'd like to donate your child's umbilical cord blood, contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross or a local university hospital, or check the National Marrow Donor Program's list of registered cord-blood facilities that accept donations. You'll need to give proper written consent before you donate your child's umbilical cord blood, but there's no cost and the process is confidential.
This information was provided by KidsHealth®, one of the largest resources online for medically reviewed health information written for parents, kids and teens. For more articles like this, visit KidsHealth.org or TeensHealth.org. © 1995- 2011. The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. All rights reserved.