What is cord blood banking? (And should you do it?)

Whether you know it or not, your umbilical cord is pretty badass. 

Not only does it transmit vital nutrients and goodness to your growing baby throughout all stages of pregnancy, it contains superpowered cord blood stem cells that can literally SAVE LIVES after you’ve given birth. If you choose to bank your baby’s cord blood, that is. 

So, uh, WTF is cord blood banking? We’re glad you asked. In this article, we’ll give you a rundown on how baby cord blood banking works, what it’s used for, and private vs public cord blood banking pros and cons.

What is cord blood banking?

As strange/horrifying as it may seem, right after you’ve delivered your baby, the blood from your umbilical cord and placenta can be collected and stored for future use. We know what you’re thinking – Why in hell?

Well, your placenta and umbilical cord contain blood that’s rich in stem cells – the building blocks of blood cells in our bodies. Cord blood storage allows doctors to access and use this special, supercharged blood to treat a variety of diseases.

Oh, the miracle of modern medicine!

What is cord blood used for?

Cord blood stem cells can help treat a range of blood disorders and immune conditions. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that the main cord blood uses currently include treating:

  • lymphocyte malignancies (leukemias)
  • hemoglobinopathies (blood disorders)
  • immune deficiencies
  • metabolic abnormalities.

Um. How?

When cord blood is given intravenously, the stem cells replace defective cells in a matter of months, and can essentially rescue someone from a life-threatening disease. Uh-mazing. It’s a particularly good replacement for bone marrow, used to treat conditions like leukemia, because it’s faster, less risky, and doesn’t require a donor who’s a ‘perfect match’.

Research is being done into the benefits of cord blood banking for use in preventing or curing other conditions like autism, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease. No guarantees there yet, though.

How is cord blood collected?

You’ll be pleased to know that collecting cord blood doesn’t hurt you or your newborn. It can be done once your umbilical cord has been clamped and cut, and it’s safe to do whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or a c-section birth

A needle is inserted into a vein in the umbilical cord, and blood from the cord and attached placenta is drained into a bag. The whole thing takes about three minutes. (But what do you know? You’re busy loving on your fresh baby while it’s happening.)

The blood bag is then shipped to a banking facility, where it’s frozen and stored, maintaining its superpowers for approximately 15 years.

Is cord blood banking worth it? – How to decide if it’s for you

Assess your public and private options

Private cord blood banking is when your baby’s cord blood is stored for private use by your family. You pay a yearly fee to keep it at a facility, and only you can access it.

Public cord blood banking is when your baby’s cord blood is donated to a public facility. It could then be used to treat and save another child’s life.

What you have access to may depend on where you live. Some countries (i.e. New Zealand) don’t have a public cord blood banking system yet, so people can only access private banks.

Consider the research

So which is the best cord blood bank?

Most medical bodies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend public cord blood banking over private. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Public cord blood banks are held to strict requirements and regulations, while private cord blood banks aren’t.

  • Cord blood is 30 times more likely to be used if stored in a public system, as opposed to private. (Why have it sitting around in case your family needs it, when there are families that DO need it right now?)

  • Private, for-profit companies may lure you with false promises (sneaky a**holes).

Banking cord blood isn’t necessarily ‘biological insurance’ for your child, as some private companies make it out to be. If they need cord blood for treatment in future, they’d likely need it from another person, since their own may already contain early traces of the condition, which could exacerbate their illness rather than treat it. 

Private cord blood banking is generally only recommended by medical professionals in unique circumstances, like if your baby has a sibling or relative needing a stem cell transplant. Even still, there’s no guarantee that your baby’s blood would contain enough usable stem cells.

Look at cord blood banking costs

It’s generally free to donate your baby’s cord blood to a public facility, such as the National Cord Blood Inventory (NCBI) in the US. 

If you decide to bank your baby’s cord blood with a private institution, you’ll probably pay between $1000 and $2000 for initial collection and storage, and ongoing storage fees upwards of $100 per year.

Talk to your doctor

Deciding to bank your baby’s cord blood isn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing. Talk to your doctor about it while you’re pregnant to get their advice. If you decide to go for it, organise the paperwork ahead of time, and include your decision in your birth plan.

Whether or not to bank your baby’s cord blood is ultimately up to you, mama. We just hope this info has helped you work it out! (If you’re still stumped, Healthlink BC offers a great resource that can walk you through the decision process!)

Need somewhere to store all this mom research? Mumli can help with that – download it today!

Verywell Family, Should You Bank Your Baby’s Umbilical Cord Blood?

American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated policy reaffirms value of public over private cord blood banks

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Umbilical Cord Blood Banking

The Royal Women’s Hospital Australia, Cord blood collection

Healthlink BC, Pregnancy: Should I Bank My Baby’s Umbilical Cord Blood?

The New York Times, Should You Bank Your Baby’s Cord Blood?

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