by Karen Doyle
When your baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut, blood remains in the blood vessels of the cord and the placenta. This “cord blood” not only contains all the normal elements of blood—red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, plasma—but it is also rich in hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells like those found in bone marrow. That’s why cord blood can be a priceless health resource for the future.
The time of your baby’s birth is the one-time only chance to save your baby’s cord blood. Learning the facts and myths in advance will help you decide if you want to tell your medical team as part of your delivery plan that you want to take this step.
Fact: Cord blood contains stem cells that can save lives.
Patients who require a stem cell transplant can get cells from one of three sources: bone marrow, circulating blood, or umbilical cord blood. Transplant patients are much more easily matched to cord blood than to the other two sources, which exist in all healthy adults. In other words, someone needing a transplant is far more likely to be able to get it from umbilical cord blood than from circulating blood or bone marrow.
Myth: Using cord blood stems cells for research is a politically-charged issue.
Do not confuse the stem cells contained in cord blood with the political hot button of “embryonic stem cells.” Embryonic stem cells come from embryos, which may be created for the purpose of creating stem cells, or from aborted embryos, which is where the political and moral question arises. The issues of creating human life for the purpose of experimentation and abortion are not related to cord blood donation. Research with stem cells from cord blood is not controversial.
Myth: Cord blood storage is expensive, and my family may never need it.
Parents who choose to have cord blood harvested have two options at the birth of their child: donate the cord blood to a bank to enable its use by anyone who is a match, or store the blood privately for the family’s own use.
Private storage costs about $2,000 at an accredited bank. Some families know, from pre-natal testing, that they are likely to need their baby’s cord blood in the future due to some genetic disorder, or a condition that is present at birth. These families qualify for free private storage programs designed for families with a case of medical need.
However, many families will never need their baby’s cord blood for their own use, and can donate it to a cord blood bank. There is no cost to the family to donate cord blood for public use.
Helping your baby later in life, helping others
Dr. Frances Verter knows first-hand the importance of collecting cord blood. In 1997, at age 5, her first child, Shai, died from leukemia. When Dr. Verter had her second child, she wanted to save the cord blood, and began researching her options. Her research led to the creation of the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation.
“I didn’t expect to have another child with cancer, but I wanted to give my children every possible form of health insurance,” said Dr. Verter. “I have personally experienced how difficult it can be to find a matching donor. I knew that, for Shai, I had to try to help other parents to educate themselves about cord blood donation.”
So why doesn’t everyone donate cord blood?
Only about 225 hospitals in the U.S. accept cord blood donations. Mothers who will deliver their baby elsewhere can still sign up for programs to mail in their cord blood donation. The Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation recently launched the nation’s first searchable map of locations to donate or mail in cord blood, to make it easy for expectant mothers to find a way to help others with their baby’s cord blood.
If you wish to donate your baby’s cord blood, you must register by the 34th week of pregnancy and be screened. The need for cord blood stem cells is particularly great among minority populations, so minority mothers are especially encouraged to consider cord blood donation.
Karen Doyle is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three children in Scituate, Massachusetts. She writes on parenting topics and personal finance issues, as well as writing what she hopes is humor.
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