Big Decision After You’re Finally Pregnant or Adopting

Dawn Davenport


Big Decision After You’re Finally Pregnant or Adopting

Should you bank your baby’s umbilical cord? What are the pros and cons?

Last year I received a message from a member of the Creating a Family Facebook Group who was finally pregnant after 3 long years of infertility. She had learned everything there was to know about in vitro fertilization (IVF), and could discuss the relative merits of fresh cycles vs. frozen embryo transfer and day 3 vs. day 5 transfer with aplomb. Once her long journey trying to conceive was over, she turned her attention to learning everything she could about growing a healthy baby. As her due date neared she was ready to turn her attention to the birth itself. She asked if we would do a Creating a Family show on umbilical cord blood banking. I added it to our list of potential topics, but honestly put it on the back burner because I didn’t think that it would support an hour show. I mean, how much can you talk about banking umbilical cord blood.

Serendipity intervened, as it often does, and the guest experts basically fell into my lap. I took this as a sign that we should go ahead with this topic. I still had reservations, but boy, oh boy, was I wrong. Our guest experts were Dr. Roni Bollag, PhD, MD, board-certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology and specialty certified in Transfusion Medicine/Blood Banking; and Dr. James Carroll, Chief of Child Neurology at Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia Children’s Hospital and lead researcher on use of blood cord stem cells to treat cerebral palsy and brain injury.

What’s the Big Deal about the Umbilical Cord?

Most of us learned in Biology 101 that the umbilical cord was the fetus’s lifeline. The umbilical cord is also an incredibly rich sources of stem cells that may well rival embryonic stem cells in their usefulness to treat diseases. The stem cells in cord blood can grow into blood and immune system cells, as well as other types of cells. The subsurface substance of the umbilical cord, called Wharton’s Jelly, may be an even better source of stem cells. Research into the stem cell potential of the placenta as a source of valuable stem cells looks promising as well.

The cord blood cells are primarily being studied for use to treat blood diseases, such as blood cancers, while the stem cells in the Wharton’s Jelly can be used to regenerate and treat diseases of other organs. And it is not just cancer that can be treated. Research is ongoing into using stem cells from cord blood, Wharton’s Jelly, and the placenta for treating a host of conditions, such as cerebral palsy, brain injury, diabetes, and even autism. Our experts stressed that this research is only in its infancy and not ready for prime time.

Why Not Automatically Bank Your Baby’s Cord Blood

So why doesn’t everyone jump on the cord blood banking band wagon— primarily cost balanced against the likelihood of being able to use it for your child or family. We talked about the cost benefit analysis for banking your baby’s cord blood or Wharton’s Jelly. You pay an initial cost and then yearly banking fee. The amount of blood that is available is only enough to treat a small child, and the likelihood that your child will develop a disease that could be treated with stem cells from this cord blood is pretty small. It may someday be possible to create your own family stem cell line that can be used by all members of your family for different purposes, but currently that is a technological and financial stretch. Another option, of course is to donate the cord blood to a public bank for use by the general public. Donating to a public bank is free and the more people who donate, the greater the possibility of finding a good match when in need.

I learned so much. If you’re considering banking your baby’s cord blood, or if you’re a science, health, trivia geek, like me, I strongly recommend listening or downloading this show. For more information, check out this great website Parents Guide to Cord Blood.


Questions on Cord Blood Banking addressed by our experts:

1. What “material” in the umbilical cord has use to treat disease?
2. Does the placenta have tissue, blood, or other “material” that can be of use and should it be saved?
3. What diseases can cord blood or Wharton’s Jelly be used to treat?
4. What is the potential for cord blood or Wharton’s Jelly to treat autism, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, and cerebral palsy?
5. Can other family members potentially benefit?
6. Should cord blood be banked privately or publicly?
7. How much does it cost?
8. And so much more.

Image credit: Roger Penguino

26/02/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 9 Comments

9 Responses to Big Decision After You’re Finally Pregnant or Adopting

  1. Avatar Melissa Siebenthal says:

    When I had my first child, I looked into donating her cord blood to the public bank, but the hospital I delivered in didn’t participate in that program. I am expecting again, and will once again look into it since I will be delivering in a different hospital. I’m still not sure I would bank the cord blood in a private bank. Mainly because of the cost…

  2. Avatar Anon says:

    I have acquaintances who found out during the pregnancy the baby had hydrocephaly. Through an experimental program at Duke University they chose to bank their daughter’s cord blood which is now being used as one of her treatments. After two years of receiving transfusions, I believe she has completed the stem cell transfusion treatment. This is all part of the experiment to determine if the stem cells can help counteract the neurological damage from the hydrocephaly. She is walking and still progressing as a toddler which they were not sure she would achieve, with or without the treatment.

  3. Avatar Anon AP says:

    iiiinteresting…because of the timing of our adoption (post-birth referral), this did not come up for us. We did choose to participate in the state’s ID program though. They do a heel stick and put a blood drop on a card. If we ever needed our child’s DNA for identification purposes – good lord, we hope not! – then as long as we keep it in a climate controlled, protected place, we should have it available. Figured that, since our DNA could not be used to confirm our child’s identification, it was a reasonable thing to do even though it was an additional source of stress for our baby on discharge day.

    With regards to stem cells, I know there is work being done to identify other sources of stem cells in the body, though my understanding is that so far they don’t quite differentiate in the same way. Just have to keep supporting all that federal research to make these other avenues more viable for everyone, right?

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      There is a lot of interesting research going on. Dr. Bollag mentioned that the stem cells from cord blood were primarily being studies for blood cancers, while the stem cells from the Wharton’s Jelly (the subsurface tissue of the umbilical cord) were primarily being studies to treat diseases of other organs of the body. Fascinating.

  4. Avatar Carolyn says:

    Wow, thanks for posting this. How timely. I am wading through a contract and now I have something to listen to with my husband.

  5. Avatar Pat Irwin Johnston says:

    The first time I wrote about this was as an option for adopters to consider was in 1988 while working on Launching a Baby’s Adoption (out of print nowbut incorporated into the newer Adopting: Sound Choices, Strong Families.)I think I also used that piece as a 0-3 column I was then doing regularly for Adoptive Families magazine. Interestingly enough, I don’t think I ever heard from a reader reporting that they had taken this advice after reading about it. I still think thta for those adopting newborns, this is an important thing to consider!

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Pat, I agree. There are some downsides–mainly the cost/benefit analysis, so some folks are now encouraging everyone to donate to the public banks to make them even more robust and useful.

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