New parents immediately get to make a potentially life-changing decision within the first moments of birth: to bank or not bank their cord blood. Cord blood is the blood in the umbilical cord contains stem cells that can later be used to treat certain cancers, immune deficiencies, metabolic diseases and more.
Typically what happens to the cord blood is it gets thrown out as medical waste, but if parents elect to keep it, it can later be used in the future.
This week the American Academy of Pediatrics made some recommendations on how to do it. In the U.S., you have the choice of saving the cord blood in a private bank, where it can be used at your discretion later in life (i.e. your friends and families), or you can offer it up to a public bank. There it can be accessed to anyone who is a match. It’s like the blood bank or the bone marrow registry.
The Academy wants parents to consider more seriously the public banks over the private banks.
It gives these reasons:
- Cord blood in private banks is underused because families are waiting for their family members to use it and if you have a disease like a blood cancer, you might not be able to use your own or a relative’s cord blood because it might contain the genetic code to form that cancer.
- Private cord blood banks are not subject to strict regulatory oversight.
- Private banks are expensive for the family. Usually there’s an upfront fee as well as an annual fee.
- Private banks also may be storing blood that is a lesser quality than what’s available in the public banks.
- Public banks, though, are heavily regulated.
- The blood at public banks is more likely to be used because anyone who is a match can use it.
- The downside, of course, is that if your family member needs the cord blood, you would have to wait for a match like everyone else, versus having your own cord blood.
The Austin Diagnostic Clinic has a good breakdown of the options, including a designated cord blood donation, if you already know you have a relative that needs it.
If you want to give cord blood, Bethematch.org has the how-tos or ask your ob-gyn how to do it.