Pregnancy is an exciting time for both mothers and fathers, but it is also a time when a large number of decisions must be made. Some of these are trivial in nature; it makes little difference in the long run if the baby’s room is painted yellow or green. However, one of the decisions could potentially be life-changing for your child, and indeed your entire family at some time in the future. This decision relates to umbilical cord blood banking.
In this regard, determining if umbilical cord blood banking is right for your new baby is one of the most important decisions you will need to make. Unfortunately, it is not a decision that can be made on the spur of the moment during delivery. Parents who wish to take advantage of umbilical cord blood banking benefits must plan ahead so that it will be possible to make a donation to a cord blood bank at the time of the baby’s birth.
The donation process itself is simple; blood that remains in a child’s umbilical cord is collected and preserved so that it will be available in the future if needed. The hospital, however, needs advance notice in order to be ready to contribute to the collection process when the time comes.
Benefits of Cord Blood Banking
Cord blood is useful because it contains many stem cells. These remarkable cells are able to differentiate themselves into many other kinds of cells, making it possible to “grow,” for example, new liver tissue. It is important from a research standpoint that scientists have access to stem cells, which are widely regarded as having the potential to contribute to the cures for many diseases and conditions. Already, such research has yielded effective treatments for almost 70 different medical conditions, including some forms of cancer.
The benefits of cord blood banking go far beyond the relatively impersonal realm of scientific research. The stem cells contained in a baby’s umbilical cord are unique to that child because they will be a perfect genetic match for every other cell in his or her body. This means that if stem cell treatment is needed at some point in the future, the child will have access to an ideal level of treatment where there is no possibility of a mismatch, or worse, tissue rejection.
Amazingly, the benefits of banking cord blood also extend to close relatives. Although the child is the only person who will usually be a 100 percent match for the preserved stem cells, there is a 50 percent likelihood that the cells will match the mother or father closely enough to be used in treatment protocols. Siblings of the child are usually a 25 percent match for the preserved stem cells. Other, more distant relatives may also be matches for the cells.
This means that a decision today to preserve a new baby’s umbilical cord blood can ultimately benefit many different members of the family, providing them with an important medical resource that may otherwise be hard or even impossible to obtain. The chance that preserved stem cells may be useful in the future is impossible to predict with accuracy, but the ongoing advances of medical science mean that additional types of stem cell treatments are being developed on a regular basis.
Who is to say how useful these cells may be in 20, 30, or even 50 years’ time? Researchers today are looking forward to a future in which it may be possible to grow entire replacement organs and use them in transplants. If this type of treatment becomes mainstream, those children whose cord blood has been preserved will have a tremendous advantage should they ever need a major organ replaced.
Information to Keep in Mind
The potential benefits of preserved cord blood may be lost if your child’s stem cells are stored in a facility that goes out of business. It is therefore important to work only with a company that can answer a few key questions about their contingency plans in such a case. Look for a company that has planned ahead by contracting with another medical facility – one that will take over their cord blood storage units if needed.
It is also a good idea to inquire about a cord blood bank’s history and affiliations. Look for a facility with a proven track record and accreditation from the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB).
At this time, cord blood banking is considered most useful for families that suffer from a genetic condition, since in such cases family members are more likely to need stem cells in the future. Nevertheless, all prospective parents should carefully consider the potential benefits of umbilical cord blood banking. In order to facilitate a collection, a final decision should generally be made at least two months before the expected due date of the new baby.