Options for Your Baby’s Cord Blood

Options for Your Baby’s Cord Blood

If you’re expecting a baby, you might have heard about umbilical cord blood and its potential to treat diseases. Your doctor may talk to you about cord blood banking, but many prospective parents haven’t considered the process. Even after talking with a doctor, you may not understand the options for your baby’s cord blood, or the potential significance of preserving cord blood. This post explains the different options for saving cord blood.

What's so special about umbilical cord blood?

Umbilical cord blood is special because doctors can use it as part of the treatment for over 80 blood and immune system diseases. Additionally, scientists are evaluating umbilical cord blood stem cells in clinical trials aimed at treating other non-hematologic diseases and conditions.

In the past, doctors routinely discarded the blood contained in the umbilical cord and placenta. Today, we know that umbilical cord blood is rich in special cells called hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). These special cells can produce other types of cells in the bloodstream, including immune system cells.

Established treatments for hematologic diseases may include drugs, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these. Advanced treatments also include cell-based therapies. Patients using cord blood transplants have a lower incidence of some complications compared to bone marrow or peripheral blood transplants, including a lower likelihood of developing a sometimes-fatal condition known as graft-versus-host disease (GvHD).

What can cord blood stem cells do?

HSCs exist in a special “undifferentiated” state. These cells have not yet determined what kind of blood cell they will become. In this special state, HSCs can turn into other blood cells or immune system cells. When they do differentiate, they can produce healthy cells.

Since cord blood is rich in HSCs, advanced disease treatment approaches include stem cell transplants to treat some blood and immune system disorders. After receiving cord blood transplants, these patients appear to experience a much lower incidence of certain complications like GvHD.

Options for Your Baby’s Cord Blood

As a parent, you currently have three choices for your baby’s umbilical cord blood. You can bank your baby’s cord blood, donate your baby’s cord blood, or you can do nothing. What are the differences between these options?

Banking Cord Blood

Banking your baby's cord blood preserves it for your family’s exclusive use. In the future – even into adulthood – the banked cord blood will remain available to your family for potentially life-saving treatment. Doctors may also be able to use banked blood to treat a sibling or other close relative.

Donating Cord Blood

Donating cord blood is another option. Currently more than 100 "public" cord blood banks retain cord blood for later use. Donated cord blood may be entered into a public registry for use by any matched recipient. It may also be used for research, or it may be discarded depending upon the results of a stringent screening process that all donated cord blood undergoes.

Discarding Cord blood

Most parents neither bank nor donate their baby’s umbilical cord blood. If you do not tell your doctor that you want to save or donate your baby’s cord blood, the doctor will discard the cord blood and its potentially life-saving stems cells as medical waste.

Cord Blood Banking

Cord blood banking is the only way to preserve your baby’s umbilical cord blood exclusively for your family’s use in later potential medical treatment. Banking ensures that your family members will have ongoing access to the potentially life-saving treatments that are currently available. It may also support those treatments that could be developed in the future.