Yawning NewbornCredit: Photo courtesy public domain pictures.net/Petr KratochvilLike many parents, you may have picked up a brochure at your OBGYN’s office that describes umbilical cord blood banking. These brochures make it seem as if banking cord blood is one more thing that a responsible parent can do to secure a child’s future.  At $2-3,000 for a setup fee and $1-200 a year afterwards, the fee is lower than your child’s first car or a semester of college. However, before you send in a check, you should know all the pros and cons about banking cord blood.

Pros of Cord Blood Banking

In ancient medicine, the placenta has a special place. Chinese physicians from antiquity prescribed that new mothers consume the placenta as part of postpartum healing. In the 18th century, dried placenta was an ingredient in several European remedies. In several cultures, mothers or fathers bury the placenta, either as part of a ritual or a ceremony to celebrate the baby’s life.

In the United States before the 1970’s modern hospitals incinerated the placenta as part of biomedical waste. Then researchers noticed that the blood in the umbilical cord and placenta was rich in the same kind of stem cells that were present in bone marrow. These stem cells can be used to create the three types of blood cells –red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. These stem cells can also reproduce more stem cells at a rapid rate.

Cord blood banking is a way to stockpile healthy cells for use in treating potential illnesses for anyone who matches the donor of that cell.

Cons of Private Cord Blood Banking

Mother and child first contactCredit: Photo courtesy public domain pictures.net/Anna CervovaThe American Medical Association only recommends private storage of cord blood if there is a genetic predisposition in a family to develop a genetic disease or cancer. Studies performed by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute indicate that privately banked cord blood is rarely used to treat disease.  The few instances where families used stored cord blood are situations where the family already had a predisposition for a certain disease.

 Also, some detractors of private cord blood banking organizations charge that their literature is misleading because it indicates that the stem cells in cord blood is used for many more illnesses than it actually is used for. At the moment, most cord blood research that these companies rely on for their literature is anecdotal and not backed by facts.

Although it is possible that doctors may use stem cells to treat many more diseases in the future, the research is in its infancy at the moment. Stem cell research is also slowed by legislation intended to hamper the use of stem cells harvested from embryos.

Another charge that critics of private banks level at the companies is that they do not tell donors that the cord blood that they harvest can’t always be used on the child who donates the blood.  Cord blood from a certain child has the genetic markers for that child, including any genetic defects. If the child later develops a disorder due to one of these genetic defects, the blood may not correct the genetic defect. Instead, new cells that the child develops may also have the same genetic defects.

However, the cord blood can also be used to treat siblings, parents or other relatives for whom the blood matches. Should the infant later become ill, he may need to rely on banked blood from another sibling, or possibly cord blood from a national donor registry if doctors rule out use of stem cells from his own blood for treatment.

Hiring a private cord blood bank to store your baby's stem cells is one way to insure that your family may be protected from future genetic diseases. Just be aware of exactly what you are getting for your money when you do so.