After the baby is born we can take blood from the umbilical cord and send it for a fee to a private blood bank (you can use a public bank as well) to be processed and stored. Because this blood is rich in stem cells ( cells that have the ability to become any human cell), the idea is that it could be used in the future to treat your child or relative with certain diseases. Banking umbilical cord blood is a way of saving stem cells that can potentially be life saving rather than throwing it away after birth.
This sounds like a great idea so why doesn't everyone do it?
While this sounds like a great idea, the odds that your child or relative will ever use stem cells from umbilical cord blood is very low. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the odds that your child will use his or her umbilical cord blood is 1 in 200,000. In addition there are very few documented cases of a child actually receiving his or her own banked cord blood as treatment. The primary reason for this is that the conditions that umbilical cord blood stem cells could treat are very uncommon.
Additionally, while the odds of using umbilical cord blood is low the costs of acquiring and storing this blood is rather high. Cord blood banks can charge up to $2000 to $3000 for the initial processing and an additional $100 per year that it is stored. This is hefty price tag especially since the chance of using umbilical cord blood is so small. Also remember cord blood can only be used to treat children because only 3-5 oz are taken from the umbilical cord and this will not be enough to treat an adult. Most people who need a transplant of stem cells receive it from bone marrow transplants. Most children who become sick with leukemia receive stem cells via bone marrow transplant from a relative or a bank and are not likely to receive it from their own umbilical cord blood. In addition, there is concern that if your child became sick, infusing its own blood may not provide as strong of an immunological response or may have some of the same genetic flaws that caused the disease in the first place!
When would storing umbilical cord blood be a good idea?
That being said if you have a child who has leukemia, sickle cell anemia, or other blood disorders, banking your baby's umbilical cord blood could be of potential benefit and your insurance may even help cover some of the costs. There may be future uses for stem cells in umbilical cord blood for everything from spinal cord injuries to heart disease, however, at this time, this is all theoretical.
At the end of the day it is a personal decision whether or not to bank your baby's umbilical cord blood but if you don't have unlimited income or a sick child, investing in your baby's future college fund may be far more valuable than preserving umbilical cord blood that likely will never be utilized. If you do decide to bank your baby's umbilical cord blood please please inform your obgyn because this cord blood needs to be taken immediately after birth and all cord blood banking kits are different. If you have a sick child that may benefit from the stem cells in your baby's umbilical cord blood, the last thing you want is a snafu during the collection process of these precious stem cells.