What Is Cord Blood?

During pregnancy, the umbilical cord connects a developing fetus to the placenta. The placenta is an organ within a pregnant woman's womb. It provides oxygen and nutrients to a growing baby, and removes waste products from the baby's blood. The cord contains blood vessels that help carry oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the baby, and take blood with waste away from the baby.

Why Is Cord Blood Saved?

The blood that flows through the placenta and umbilical cord has a high concentration of stem cells. Stem cells develop to become mature blood cells including:

  • red blood cells
  • white blood cells
  • platelets

Stem cells are an important treatment for many diseases, including cancer, blood disorders, and genetic and metabolic diseases. For many patients, umbilical cord stem cells are life-saving.

How Is Cord Blood Collected?

Usually, the umbilical cord and placenta are discarded after birth. If a mother chooses to have her cord blood collected, the health care team will do so after the baby is born. With a sterile needle, they'll draw the blood from the umbilical vessels into a collection bag. The blood is packaged and sent to a cord blood bank for long-term storage.

How Is Cord Blood Stored?

The two types of banks that store cord blood are:

  1. Public banks: These process and store umbilical cord blood donations for public use or for research. Once donated, it's unlikely that the cord blood will be available for future private use. There are no storage fees. Mothers donate their baby's cord blood to public banks to help other people.
  2. Private banks: These store cord blood for personal use by the family. The cost for long-term storage can be high.

Is Cord Blood Banking Right for Me?

If you're thinking about banking your newborn's cord blood, talk about your options with your health care provider. Your provider can discuss the advantages and disadvantages of public and private cord blood banking.

For example:

  • Private cord blood banking can help if you or a family member have an existing disease that's treated using stem cells.
  • It's very unlikely that a child will develop a condition that can be treated with his or her own stem cells.
  • Donating to a public cord blood bank may provide life-saving stem cells to a patient in need.

Other resources that can help you decide:

If You Decide to Donate

Many doctors and researchers support saving umbilical cord blood. Most of us would have little use for stem cells now, but research into using them to treat diseases is ongoing — and the future looks promising.

If you want to donate your child's umbilical cord blood, talk to your health care provider or contact the hospital or birthing center where your baby will be born. It's best to start the process early in your pregnancy so you have time to explore and understand your options.

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