Pregnancy is full of big decisions. Should you find out the sex of your baby? Will you have a medicated or unmedicated birth? What’s your baby’s name? Should you paint the nursery sage or mustard?

Well, here’s one more big question to consider before the big day: Should you bank your baby’s cord blood?

What is cord blood?

At the moment of birth, the umbilical cord has to be cut. A little stub of the cord stays attached to your baby’s belly—don’t worry, it just dries up and drops off in a couple of weeks…no biggie—but, most of it stays dangling from your amazing soft, spongy placenta. And, that placenta is filled with big veins, including the umbilical cord vein, which is still filled with your baby’s blood…their so-called cord blood.

What makes cord blood so special is that it’s rich with stem cells. These miraculous cells are very, very special because they have the ability to grow new blood cells and perhaps even other body cells (liver, heart, etc).

Have you ever heard of someone with cancer needing a bone marrow transplant? Here’s where it gets interesting: Bone marrow is great stuff because it contains stem cells that can regrow someone’s entire supply of stem cells that can replace someone's blood and immune system after it has been wiped out by chemotherapy. Cord blood stem cells are better at replicating themselves than stem cells from bone marrow. Because newborn stem cells are so young, they haven't been exposed to some of the environmental factors that can reduce the effectiveness of stem cells. And, studies show a baby’s newborn stem cells can be used for treatment when they are transplanted into a person with a serious blood disease.

What is cord blood banking?

It used to be that cord blood was just thrown out along with the placenta and umbilical cord, but for the past 20 years, many parents have been using special companies to store their baby’s cord blood— in a deep freeze—to have it available for a number of potential medical problems as their child grows. Think of it as having the peace of mind knowing that your family’s future health could be protected.

There are about 80 blood-related illnesses and disorders that umbilical cord blood is used to treat, including: leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, and some immune system disorders. And, scientists are studying new ways to use cord blood cells to treat other diseases. Perhaps ultimately it will be used to treat cerebral palsy, diabetes, and strokes.

Can parents or siblings use cord blood?

Newborn stem cells from a baby’s cord blood and cord tissue may also be used to treat siblings—or future brothers and sisters— perhaps even the baby’s parents. Babies are a 100% genetic match to their own cord stem cells, full siblings have a 75% chance of being at least a partial match, and biological parents are a 50% match. So, if anyone in the family needs your baby's newborn stem cells, there's a real chance they might be able to use them.

How much does it cost to bank cord blood?

Of course, this comes with a price. The cost of banking cord blood can range from about $1,000 to $2,500 for the initial collection, testing, and registration, plus $180 annually for storage. Some families choose to bank the cord blood for 18 years (until the child reaches adulthood) while others will choose a lifetime plan. Most cord blood banks offer prepaid plans at a discount.

How long does cord blood last when it is in the bank? 

Since cord blood banking is pretty new, we don’t know exactly how long it lasts while frozen. One study found that cord blood can be recovered at least 23 years after freezing, and experts believe that when stored properly, it could be good for decades.

Is it worth it to bank cord blood?

Cord blood can be very effective in treating specific blood-related diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma, but it is by no means a cure-all. There are plenty of conditions that cord blood can’t help with…at least not yet.

Based on emerging research, the chance that you would use your baby’s newborn stem cells could be much higher in the future than it is today. If you have a family history of certain genetic diseases, your likelihood of using the cord blood is higher. Science keeps showing us potential new uses for cord blood—we may someday use stem cells to grow new kidneys or treat spinal cord injury, ALS, and Parkinson’s…among other diseases.

If you have the means to bank cord blood and it makes you feel more secure about the future of your family’s health, by all means, go for it. But if private banking cord blood is not in your budget, you might consider donating your baby’s cord blood to a public cord blood registry.

What’s the difference between private and public cord blood banking?

When you store your baby’s cord blood privately, you assume all the costs, and the cord blood 100% belongs to your family. But that’s not your only option. You could donate your baby’s cord blood to a public registry where it will be made available to any adult or child in need.

With public banking, there is no cost for donating—unless your hospital charges a small collection fee—and you could be dramatically improving the lives of many people. However, you will not be able to access your own child’s cord blood later if you need it.

If you’re interested in public cord blood banking, check to make sure your hospital or birth center offers this option—not all do.

Can I do cord blood banking if I want to do delayed cord clamping?

Many parents choose both cord blood banking and delayed cord clamping to reap the benefits of both. Delayed cord clamping is when the doctor or midwife waits before clamping and cutting the umbilical cord. Usually, even after waiting, there is enough blood to collect for banking. Plus, just collecting cord tissue is also an option. But, it’s always a good idea to discuss your plans with your doctor, so that you are both aligned on your expectations.

What do I need to do if I want to bank cord blood?

Cord blood banking can take some time to set up. Ideally, you’d start the process during your second trimester. Talk to your provider who may have a recommendation for a particular cord blood bank. Consider consulting friends and family members who’ve been through the process. Here is a helpful online tool to help you research your options.

You’ll want to choose a cord blood bank that has been accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) or equivalent that boasts high standards and reliability.

Once you choose your cord blood bank, you’ll order your collection kit, which will be shipped to your house. You’ll pack it in your hospital go-bag so that you’ll have it all set when the day comes that you have to scoot out to the hospital. Remember: Be sure to give your practitioner a heads up—a couple of months before delivery—that you plan on banking the cord blood.

When your baby is born, your practitioner will clamp and cut the umbilical cord. They’ll collect the cord blood and cord tissue which is completely painless for mom and baby. Then they’ll pack into your kit and ship to the lab via medical courier. The scientists will extract the stem cells from the blood and tissue and then store them cryogenically (frozen in liquid nitrogen).

As with any parenting decision, you’ll want to choose what’s best for your family—so talk to your healthcare provider about your options. But, for parents who want to do everything they can to keep their precious little one safe and healthy—for today and in the future—banking cord blood may provide some valuable peace of mind.

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About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.