In recent years, more and more expectant parents have been informed about the importance of saving their newborn’s cord blood. So what's the hype all about?
“Cord blood” is a term that refers to the blood that remains in the placenta and the umbilical cord (which attaches the baby to the placenta) after its been cut. This blood, which the mother’s body has been filtering throughout the pregnancy, contains all of the normal red and white blood cells, platelets and plasma – but it has one extra special addition: stem cells.
Ah yes! The stem cells we’ve been hearing about. Stem cells can treat, repair and/or replace damaged cells in the body, becoming any type of cell that the body deems necessary. These magical cells can essentially find “holes” in defective tissues and cells and morph themselves into new healthy, specialized tissue and cells. Stem cells can create healthy bone marrow (essential for those needing life-saving transplants), assist in Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, lymphoma, anemia, leukemia, and even aid in the reparation of spinal cord injury, among others. Amazingly, stem cells can divide and renew themselves without limit for long periods of time, which normal cells don’t do. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell. Yes, they are THAT awesome.
With the knowledge that stem cells are essential for internal reparation in case of severe injury or illness, it has been recommended that parents collect and store their child’s cord blood for future use, if necessary. As cord blood can be stored indefinitely, its regenerative properties can be used for injuries that may occur decades into the future. Additionally, if certain diseases or disorders run in your family that could be aided by stem cells, it is certainly something that should be looked into.
The process of collecting cord blood looks something like this:
When the baby is delivered (vaginally or cesarean), the placenta is delivered (or removed) shortly after. When the umbilical cord is cut (this does not hurt the baby) to separate the baby from the placenta, the placenta is usually discarded; in this case the remaining blood in the cord and placenta will be collected in a small sterile bag by the hospital staff. This bag will then be taken to a cryo-bank where it will be labeled appropriately and frozen indefinitely until (if) needed.
Simple. However this peace of mind does come at a cost. Storing cord blood at a cryo-bank, either private or public, is quite expensive. You can expect to pay an initial fee in the thousands of dollars and a yearly maintenance fee, all depending on the institution chosen.
If you enjoy the idea of using your newborn’s stem cells to help potentially save a life but don’t want to spend the money on banking it, there is another option. If suitable, your baby’s cord blood can be donated, as it is extremely useful for those needing bone marrow transplants. As a suitable donor for marrow would have to 8 of 8 matching tissue and blood types (a rare find), blood transplants (of cord blood) can be performed if the donor and recipient are only partially matched. Because of this, finding a suitable donor for those waiting for a transplant is increased.
To find out if your hospital participates in cord blood donation, visit the National Marrow Donor Program’s website for more information.
Treatments using cord blood are still experimental, but as further breakthroughs are made the larger the chances are that this small act in giving life could save one, as well.