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As an expecting parent, you may have plenty of important decisions to make before your baby is born. This may include basics like naming the baby, the paediatrician to go to, breastfeeding duration, etc. and more than anything you are left to decide on the issue of whether to bank or not to bank your baby's umbilical cord blood.
You may have come across direct mailers, ads in parents' magazines and flyers at hospitals that repeatedly inform parents about their opportunity to save their baby's umbilical cord blood for possible use later so as to save lives. Currently, a lot of parents are coming ahead to store the cord blood for future use. So, should you do it too? Here are more details on cord blood storage, so that you will be in a better position to decide on the same.
What Is Cord Blood?
The blood which is found in the umbilical cord (which connects the baby to the mother) and the placenta is called 'Cord Blood'.
It is highly valuable as it is rich in stem cells that produce all blood cells. The cord blood cells can morph into all sorts of other blood cells and they are ideal for treating various diseases that harm the blood and immune system and are also beneficial in treating certain metabolic disorders.
What Is Cord Blood Banking?
The umbilical cord is usually thrown away after birth. But, the blood within the cord can be banked or saved for later use. The blood is collected from the umbilical cord after the cord has been clamped and cut. The cord blood banks freeze this cord blood for storage.
To store your baby's cord blood, you can depend on a private bank or donate it to a public bank. Generally, private banks charge a fee to store cord blood to be used by your family. But, if you donate cord blood to a public bank, the cord blood can be used by anybody who needs it.
Here are three options for Cord Blood Banking:
Public Cord Banks - They do not charge for storage. Donation of any kind is available for anyone who needs it. The bank may also use the donated cord blood for research.
Private Cord Banks - They store the donated blood for use by the donor and family members only. This can be expensive. Private cord banks charge a fee for processing, apart from an annual storage fee.
Direct donation banks - They are a combination of public and private cord banks, and they store cord blood for public use. But they also accept donations reserved for families, but no fee is charged.
Why Should You Bank Your Cord Blood?
The cord blood stem cells are used in transplants to treat several paediatric disorders, including leukemia, sickle cell disease, and metabolic disorders. Those who require a cord blood transplant can try and find a match with a sibling or from an unrelated person.
A self-transplant is also possible, if the cord blood has been stored in a private cord blood bank. But, in certain conditions like leukemia, there is a genetic risk, so self-transplant is not advisable.
Some of the diseases such as Hodgkin's disease, certain types of anemia, immune system disorders and about 40 such diseases can be effectively treated with stem cells. When healthy stem cells are transplanted into a child who is ill, these cells can grow new bone marrow cells to replace the ones destroyed by the disease or due to its treatment.
There are extensive researches being carried out to check its ability to treat diabetes, stroke, heart diseases, spinal cord injuries and other potential applications. Therefore, cord blood storage holds great potential in future. However, currently, treatment is limited to diseases that affect blood cells.
The cord blood is easy to collect and has 10 times more stem cells than those collected from the bone marrow.
Cord blood banking for own use may be a good idea for families that have a child suffering from lymphoma, leukemia, sickle cell disease, thalassemia, or other cancers. It can also be beneficial if any family member has a condition that requires treatment using a bone marrow transplant.
How Does The Whole Process Take Place?
In case you wish to store your baby's cord blood after birth, the doctor clamps the umbilical cord in two places (10 inches apart) and cuts the cord, separating the mother from the baby. Then, a needle is inserted and 40 millilitres of blood is collected from the cord.
The blood is immediately sealed in a bag and sent to a cord blood bank for testing and storage. The whole process is painless for both the mother and the baby, and takes just a few minutes.
So, Should You Bank Your Baby's Cord Blood?
The choice is completely yours. However, it is essential to know certain facts. The chance that your child may use their cord blood is very rare. The stored blood cannot always be used. At times, if a person develops a disease later in life due to genetic mutation, it would also be present in stem cells. In such a case, cord blood storage may not help.
Some experts suggest that cord blood storage be done in a public bank to help others, and private banks should be used only when there is a sibling with a medical condition who may benefit from stem cells.
Finally, if you decide to bank your baby's cord blood, it shouldn't be a last-minute decision. You need to co-ordinate with the bank before your baby is born, so that you don't leave anything to chance.
When you donate cord blood, you are donating something that you may not need, but it could cure a disease or save a life, and that's the most amazing part, isn't it?