We all know that having a baby comes with myriad decisions. But here’s one you may not have considered: choosing to bank blood from your baby’s umbilical cord. This increasingly popular practice that takes place after birth has the potential to benefit the future health of your child or a family member if required. Not sure if it’s right for you? Let’s break it down.
What exactly is the practice?
Over the last 25 years, scientists have recognized the value of stem cells in the treatment of various illnesses as well as for vital research and clinical trials. These stem cells are found in blood and tissue within the umbilical cord. The fluid is easy to collect and has 10 times more stem cells than those collected from bone marrow.
The stem cells are collected and preserved for future use in stem cell treatments or clinical trials. They can either be stored privately for the exclusive use of the baby and their family, or be donated to public banks free of charge for anyone to use.
What can these stem cells be used for?
Since 1988 there have been over one million stem cell treatments worldwide. Cord blood stem cells can be used in therapies and transplants to treat over 80 diseases–including cancers, blood disorders, and immune disorders. There are also hundreds of ongoing clinical trials investigating the use of stem cells to treat conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.
Stem cells from cord blood rarely carry any infectious diseases, and they’re just half as likely to be rejected as adult stem cells, so they can be more useful in treatments.
How are they collected and stored?
Collection of cord blood is a quick, painless process and carried out immediately after delivery. The doctor will clamp the umbilical cord in two places about 10 inches apart. They will then insert a needle to the clamped section and withdraw at least 40 milliliters of blood which is then sent off to be tested and stored.
Blood storage banks are either private or public, and you can decide which is best for you and your family.
These can be expensive, but it means you are the sole owner of your baby’s blood cells and you are the only person that can decide how that blood can be used, whether it’s for your child or a family member. Stem cell transplants from a related family member are less likely to be rejected and success rates of using related cord blood for transplants are twice that of using blood from public donors for transplants. However, most private stores of stem cells are discarded, whilst public stores are far more likely to be used.
These are free–plus, donating your stem cells to a public bank could save the lives of others. The bank may also donate the cord blood for research purposes.
So… is cord blood collection and stem cell storage a good idea?
This is a relatively new area of research which means we can’t know all the benefits or limitations just yet. Although research is promising, there are restrictions to how useful these stem cells might be.
For instance: if a baby has a genetic condition, then the stem cells stored will also carry that faulty gene, and therefore the child cannot use their own stem cells. Current research also states that stored blood may only be useful for up to 15 years, which is an important limitation to consider.
Don’t be misled by private banks that promote their services as “biological insurance” against future diseases. In most cases, there is a very small chance that a child or family member will use the blood, and often it will not be used at all.
It should be noted that The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics don’t actually recommend routine cord blood storage. It’s suggested that families should only consider private baking when there is a sibling with a medical condition who could benefit from the stem cells.
Instead, families are encouraged to donate stem cells to a public bank so that there is the option of helping others and supporting ongoing research.
Whatever decision you make, we encourage you to do your research and discuss your options with family and loved ones.
What do you think of cord blood banking, and have you done it yourself? Let us know in the comments!
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