After a baby is born, the doctor clamps and cuts the umbilical cord. However, some families delay clamping for a time. Delaying the clamping allows more time for the umbilical cord blood to flow to their baby. This delay is beneficial because the blood that remains from the umbilical cord after birth is rich with newborn stem cells.
Once the baby is born, and even if parents choose to delay clamping the cord, it’s possible to collect these cells and pay a private bank to store the stem cells for their family in cryogenic storage. Parents can also decide to donate cord blood to a public bank for free for other people to use. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, 11% of transplant patients receive donated cord blood from a public cord blood bank.
Delaying Cord Blood
In January 2017, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended delaying clamping the umbilical cord for 30–60 seconds for all healthy infants. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends delaying for at least one minute.
The benefits of delaying clamping to your baby include:
- lower frequency of iron deficiency anemia
- reduced need for blood transfusion
- higher blood volume
However, some evidence also suggests that delaying may slightly increase the baby’s risk of jaundice. Because the opinions on optimal timing vary, consult with your healthcare provider about your family’s specific situation.
Donating Cord Blood
Cord blood stem cells are not embryonic. But they are more pristine than adult stem cells. Because the stem cells are younger, they have had less exposure to illness or environmental factors. These stem cells can grow into blood and immune system cells, as well as other types of cells. Because the stem cells in adult’s bone marrow are difficult to collect, cord blood is often used for stem cell transplants. Cord blood stem cells treat around 80 diseases, including blood disorders (sickle cell disease), blood cancers (leukemia and lymphoma) as well as genetic and metabolic diseases.
The U.S. has 25 public banks for cord blood donation: https://parentsguidecordblood.org/en/public-banking.
Privately Banking Umbilical Cord Blood
Some family circumstances will clearly indicate when cord blood banking for future therapeutic needs is preferable. These circumstances may include a family history of leukemia, lymphoma, or sickle cell anemia. But even if a family doesn’t have a history of diseases that need stem cell transplants, parents may still choose to bank cord blood. The blood is reserved solely for their family. And as medical advances continue, the stem cells could treat more diseases. For example, trials are underway to see the effects of a patient’s cord blood to treat autism and cerebral palsy. Doctors can also collect and bank umbilical cord tissue, which has different types of stem cells, at the same time as umbilical cord blood.
Know that banking cord blood can be expensive. Private cord blood banks charge $1,500 to $2,500 for an initial fee, plus an annual storage fee of about $100.
Can I Delay Clamping and Still Bank Cord Blood?
Growing evidence shows it’s possible to delay and bank cord blood. Parents can discuss the pros and cons with their doctor. Delayed cord clamping results in smaller cord blood collections. If clamping lasts longer than two minutes, the blood begins to clot, making it harder to collect. Still, smaller cord blood collections are usually fine for a family banking setting. The decision depends on the therapy. A smaller cord blood collection should be fine if the parent is saving stem cells to protect the newborn against future diseases. However, a larger collection is preferred if the family needs the stem cells for an older sibling’s or cousin’s transplant.
Because public cord blood banks hope to provide transplants to adults as well as children, they need to collect more blood. Almost all public cord blood banks have a minimum amount needed for cord blood donations. When cord clamping is delayed longer than a minute, the volume of cord blood collected decreases. Only a small number of delayed cord blood collections qualify for donation to a public bank.
When Do I Need to Contact a Public Cord Blood Bank about Donating?
If possible, you should contact your cord blood bank after the start of week 28 of pregnancy and before week 34. This allows time for the mother to pass a health history screening and provide informed consent.
Does it Cost Anything to Donate?
Public cord blood banks cover the costs associated with collecting, testing, and storing the blood.
Is there any Risk with Donating or Banking Cord Blood?
Collecting the stem cells in cord blood poses no risk to the baby or mother.
Learn More about Donating and Banking Cord Blood:
- Be the Match: https://bethematch.org/support-the-cause/donate-cord-blood/cord-blood-faqs/
- Cord Blood Bank of Arkansas: http://www.cordbloodbankarkansas.org/
- Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation: https://parentsguidecordblood.org/en
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