The banking of umbilical cords and blood is a hot topic at the moment, yet when I was pregnant just a year ago I had no idea what it was about. I vaguely remember someone, possibly a midwife, asking if I would be doing it, but I received no guidance so I assumed it was along the same lines as taking home your placenta to eat. No thanks!
What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta after your baby is born, it is rich in blood stem cells which can be used to treat many conditions including blood cancers, blood disorders, immunodeficiencies, and metabolic disorders.
How is it banked?
After you have delivered your baby a qualified technician can harvest the blood from your cord and send it to be frozen and stored. This causes absolutely no risk or discomfort to you or your baby.
If you are banking privately then you may also be able to bank a small section of the umbilical cord itself which contains stem cells used for body tissue.
Why should I bank my cord blood?
Most scientists are agreed that stem cells are a valuable resource. There are currently many life threatening conditions for which there are stem cell treatments and with more studies and trials happening all the time there will likely be many more applications in the future. Many scientists even believe that we will eventually be in a position to grow organs for transplant using stem cells.
Who can use cord blood?
Cord blood can be used by anyone who is a match for it. In the case of a private bank this would mean that one siblings cord blood could potentially be used by another family member, should they become ill.
What are the options for banking?
At the moment there are two options for banking cord blood in the UK. You can either bank privately, ensuring that your baby’s own stem cells are available to them should they ever need them, or you can donate your cord blood to the NHS. Should your child need a stem cell treatment in the future the NHS would find a match from their bank but there is no guarantee that it would be your child’s own stem cells.
When you bank your cord blood privately you have the peace of mind of knowing that you will have access to your child’s own cord blood should the worse happen. This will be a 100% match with your child, removing the risk or rejection. When you bank privately you may also have the option of banking a small section of your umbilical cord. This contains a different type of stem cell which is used to create body tissue rather than blood, which means that it may have applications for tissue repair or even organ growth in the future.
Banking at a communal bank
The NHS runs the worlds 4th largest public cord bank. If you choose to donate your cord blood to a public bank it’s treated very much like a normal blood donation in that it becomes part of a repository and can be given to anyone in need who is a match. You can find out more about the NHS cord blood bank on their website https://www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/cord-blood-bank/
Is cord blood donation worth it?
In my opinion, it is difficult to say exactly how valuable a resource cord blood is at the moment. This is because only a very small percentage of people are currently banking and of those who do, an even smaller percentage are likely to need it. In a way, cord blood banking is currently a gamble. There are several very worthwhile health applications for it but the real value will only be realised if stem cell research continues to advance and develop over the next few years. That does seem to be likely so you could say it’s a fairly safe bet.
If I were able to go back in time with the knowledge I have now, I would certainly spend a lot longer deliberating over whether I would like to privately bank my cord blood, and although I’m not 100% sure whether I would have, I can say with certainty that if I had chosen not to I would have donated it to the NHS bank.
Did you bank your cord blood? If so, what was your experience like and would you recommend it?
*Infographic provided by Smart Cells