Umbilical cord blood is a rich source of stem cells – one of the most important medical discoveries of the last few decades. Using stem cells, medical researchers have developed effective treatments and cures for a range of conditions, including leukemia and sickle cell disease. These treatments, however, often depend on finding a genetic “match” with available stored stem cells that are held in a public blood bank. This can sometimes be difficult and a good match is not always available.
This is why the taking of cord blood is becoming more common with ever more parents opting to go ahead with the procedure at the time of their baby’s birth. In this way parents can ensure that their own child has access to stem cells that are a perfect match for him or her if needed in later life. If this blood is stored in a private facility there will of course be a cost implication but that could fade into insignificance if the child does become ill with a condition that can be cured with the use of stem cells.
The basics of cord blood donation
The cord blood donation process is designed to be as convenient as possible for the new parents, who, after all, will have their hands full taking care of a new baby. Many of the tasks associated with donation are actually performed before the delivery. About two months before your due date, you will need to discuss cord blood donation with your health care provider. These professionals can help guide you to the resources that will clarify whether you meet the guidelines for donors.
How to go about donating cord blood
If you decide to donate, contact a cord blood bank that works with your hospital for a more complete evaluation. They will clarify their exact donation procedures so you can feel assured that the donation process will not interfere with your baby’s delivery in any way.
Some general procedures usually apply, however. After your baby is delivered, blood will be collected from the umbilical cord and placenta. Some hospitals do this before the placenta is delivered while others complete the procedure afterwards.
No blood will be required from your baby, but you will be asked to supply a sample of your own blood so that it can be tested for infectious diseases. The donation process concludes with the collected blood being delivered to a cord blood bank, but the hospital and/or the bank will take care of that for you.
How donated cord blood is stored
When your baby’s cord blood arrives at the blood bank it will be tested in several ways to see if it is free of contamination and to assess if it is more suitable for use in research or in transplant procedures. The blood will also be tissue-typed and listed so that users of the “Be the Match” Registry can identify potential matches. All listing is done by number, not name, in order to preserve the privacy of donors and their families.
Why cord blood donation is important for your child
A commonly cited reason for donating cord blood is that it is “giving the gift of life.” This is true, but the phrase is rather impersonal since it generally refers to giving life to a stranger you will probably never meet. Cord blood donation, however, is in one respect very different from the organ donations that we’re more familiar with. When you donate your baby’s cord blood to a public bank, the life you save may very well be your own baby’s.
For many families, this aspect is what makes cord blood bank pricing a non-issue. New parents make many costly financial moves in order to protect their newborn child. They may purchase life insurance for the first time; they start a college savings account. Donating cord blood should be regarded in the same light. In the distant or not-so-distant future, your child could develop a medical condition that is best treated with the stem cells contained in his or her own cord blood.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the proper preservation of that blood could greatly improve your child’s quality of life and in some cases, even save your baby’s life. Making sure that a perfect genetic match of cord blood is available in the future, then, is quite literally the best gift that any parent can possibly give to a newborn child.
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