Since the early 1990s, cord blood banks have added a new item to the list of things to consider for parents-to-be. Research into cord blood has shown that it has immediate benefits for baby, helps in the fight against over 50 illnesses and has promising potential to cure, or slow the progression of, common and debilitating illnesses. As with most health considerations, there are benefits and disadvantages and parents must make the decision that is best for their family.
Immediate Benefits of Cord Blood
Delayed cord clamping is the practice of waiting until the umbilical cord has stopped pulsating, up to three minutes, before clamping it off from the placenta. This allows for all the blood that is circulating in the placenta to become part of the newborn’s circulation. Most doctors still employ the practice of clamping the umbilical cord as soon as is reasonable, as little as 10 seconds after birth. Research for delayed clamping has shown that newborns whose cord clamping was delayed had better oxygenation four to 24 hours after birth. Those same infants had better iron stores up to six months after birth, when iron stores in infants typically tend to drop. There is some evidence that delayed clamping can increase the need for phototherapy if baby becomes jaundiced but it does not increase your baby’s risk of developing jaundice after birth. There is no evidence that the risk of maternal hemorrhage increases if clamping is delayed. If you do want to delay cord clamping, be sure to discuss your decision with your doctor/midwife and health care team.
Cord Blood Banking
Cord blood banking, surprisingly, is nothing new. Research and banking of cord blood began in the 1970s when cord blood was found to be highly adaptable, meaning it can easily replicate in to red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets. The first cord blood transplant occurred in 1988 in Paris and used a sibling’s cord blood to treat a rare type of anemia.
Private cord banks store your baby’s cord blood and it is available to only you and your family in the event of an illness that can be treated with cord blood transplantation. Public cord banks function as bone marrow banks do, hospitals can search for matches in a public database and find suitable donors between strangers or relatives. In Canada, all cord blood banks are currently private with the first public cord bank projected to be fully operational in 2014.
Cord blood is used in the treatment of certain pediatric illness such as leukemia, anemia’s, and over 50 other illnesses. Banking is especially beneficial if there is a family history of childhood illnesses that would benefit from transplantation of cord blood. Research shows that cord blood can easily differentiate (change) into cardiac, skin, pancreatic, and neurologic tissue paving the way for research using cord blood to cure heart disease, multiple sclerosis or diabetes.
A major hindrance to cord banking is the cost, initial storage costs range from $600-$2000 and yearly storage fees can be about $100. For families who end up needing the cord blood it is a small price to pay; however, odds that your child will ever need cord blood range from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000. New research shows that most of the conditions that a child will have in their life are already present in their cord blood at birth. This means that using a child’s own cord blood may not be helpful or may increase the risk of disease recurrence.
Watch out for companies who play on your parent-to-be emotional vulnerability selling cord blood banking as “biological insurance”; there are still numerous traditional, successful treatments available. If you choose to bank, opt for public banks over private keeping in mind once in the public system, cord blood may not be available for private use. Consider your own family history and if the cord blood will be needed. The decision to bank cord blood must be made before baby’s due date because you will have to take the kit with you to the hospital; there are no kits available at the hospital at this time.
Nora Yaghi RN BsCN is with Real Birth Support. For more information, visit www.realbirthsupport.com.