What is Umbilical Cord Blood Banking?

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Contributor, Benzinga
September 2, 2022

Expecting a baby is an exciting experience full of hope and indescribable joy. It can be a period during which your inherent strength and tenacity manifest through your eternal love, tenderness, caring and protection for your new baby — qualities you never knew you had. 

What stroller would serve my infant? How can I get the best pediatrician? What are good ideas for names? Expectant parents have more than enough things to worry about before delivery. Additionally, you may be considering the essential but non-mandatory decision of whether to bank your infant’s umbilical cord blood.

In recent years, umbilical cord blood banking has become popular. With ads by private and public banks flying around, it’s hard for you not to come across information about this topc, especially during one of the visits to your OB-GYN. 

What is umbilical cord blood banking — and is it something worth considering? Benzinga’s overview provides valuable insight into umbilical cord blood banking, how it works and how it benefits your family. Let’s dive into it.

What is Umbilical Cord Blood Banking?

Umbilical cord blood banking involves collecting or recovering stem cell-rich umbilical cord blood immediately after the birth of an infant for storage purposes pending need by a patient. The umbilical cord is a rope-like cord that connects the fetus to the placenta during pregnancy. It contains blood vessels that transport oxygen and nutrient-rich blood from the placenta to the baby. 

The extra blood that remains within this cord and the placenta after birth is referred to as umbilical cord blood or cord blood. Umbilical cord blood is a valuable source of hematopoietic stem cells, the progenitor cells that develop into primary blood components — platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells. 

These immature or primitive cells have exceptional ability to regenerate or morph into other forms of cells and as such are perfect for treating diverse diseases. These illnesses include various cancers, blood diseases like leukemia, metabolic disorders and immune system disorders that disrupt the body’s defense ability. Stem cells can also come from adult peripheral blood cells and bone marrow. However, hematopoietic stem cells are primitive, disease-free, easy to collect and twice as likely to be accepted, unlike adult stem cells.

Since 1988 when stem cells from umbilical cord blood were first used to perform a transplant, its application in disease treatment has increased. Despite that, serious scientific research is still ongoing, especially regarding its potential application in treating heart disease, diabetes, stroke and spinal cord injuries.

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What are the Types of Umbilical Cord Blood Banking?

Parents can use two types of umbilical cord blood banking — private and public umbilical cord blood banking.

Private Umbilical Cord Blood Banking

Private umbilical cord blood banks are for-profit companies that charge money to store your infant’s cord blood for future use by the child or their siblings. In this type of banking, your family owns the umbilical cord blood and can decide how, when and who uses it for treatment. Private cord blood banking is expensive. Collection and processing fees may average over $2,000 plus an annual storage fee of over $125. And its limited use doesn’t justify the amount you may have to shell out.

The chances of a child using their stored stem cells to treat a medical condition are low from the uncommon occurrence of such diseases. Genetic disorders like leukemia, sickle cell and thalassemia cannot be treated via autologous transplant — a stem cell transplant that uses the individual’s stem cell. The reason is that the mutations that cause such disorders are present in the child’s blood from birth. In fact, just a little over 400 cases of autologous treatment have been documented in the U.S. in the past decades, compared to over 40,000 stem cell transplants from unrelated donors worldwide. 

Although you may decide to bank privately as a form of insurance, down the line if stem cell applications further expand to include the treatment of more regular diseases, your infant’s genetically unique stem cells will be available for the family. However, that may be a waste of money as no one knows how long a frozen stem cell needs to stay and remain viable. While some researchers say 15 years; others say 25 years. 

Banking privately can make sense when you have a family member with a medical disorder that you’re aware of who may benefit from a stem cell transplant. An infant’s stem cell is more likely to be a better match to a sick family member than a stem cell from a non-family donor. Because of its limited application, high cost and minimal oversight, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Medical Association (AMA), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and most professional medical associates worldwide favor public cord blood banking.

Public Umbilical Cord Blood Banking

Public umbilical cord blood banking involves donating to a public bank. Public umbilical cord blood banks are government and privately funded companies serving the general public. Donations to public banks are free, from collections to storage. However, you don’t have control over who uses the stem cells because it’s for the public. Donating to public banks makes sense from a humanitarian perspective. With thousands of people in the pipeline looking for a potential matching donor, you never know; you might be offering someone a new lease of life. Cord blood donated to public banks is 30 times more likely to be used, unlike private banks. The donated umbilical cord blood can also be used for medical research to better humanity. 

Furthermore, it’s a great way to support community and public health. Cord blood donated to public banks is subjected to the highest level of oversight and quality assurance during processing, unlike private banks. Donating to a public bank is effortless and involves less leg work. Usually, public banks partner with various hospitals to streamline collections. The best way to donate this way is to give birth in one of the participating hospitals.

How is Umbilical Cord Blood Collected?

After birth, the umbilical cord blood is usually discarded or thrown away with the placenta. However, its underlying medical benefits mean it can offer hope to patients with terminal health conditions. And as such, choosing to bank cord blood privately or donate to public banks has become popular among expectant mothers. Suppose you have plans to bank your infant’s umbilical cord blood. In that case, you need to contact your healthcare provider or inform your birthing professional three months before the delivery date in line with AAP guidelines. Your birthing professional will provide you with information about the process. 

They’ll let you know if they collect for any private or public bank, assuming you haven’t already made that choice. You may also need to contact your chosen umbilical cord blood bank to know about its instructions and operational procedures. Generally, you’ll be required to fill out a health history form to help the bank certify that you are free of diseases like HIV, hepatitis or other conditions that may disqualify you from the procedure. The form will also shed light on your family health history. Additionally, you’ll fill out a consent form. 

Once you conclude the preliminaries, collecting the cord blood is a non-invasive and painless process that takes only a couple of minutes. Depending on your birthing hospital or professional, there are three common ways your infant’s umbilical cord blood can be collected.

  • One involves hanging the sterilized blood bag lower than the mother and using gravity to draw the blood down the tube into the blood bag. The bag is sealed and placed inside a kit where oxygen, pH and carbon monoxide levels are adjusted depending on time and external conditions. This method uses fewer steps, which means lower chances of a mistake or contamination. It is used in most parts of the world.
  • The second approach is a bit more technical. In this method, your birthing professional first clamps the umbilical cord on two ends 10 inches apart. They then cut the cord and separate the mother from the baby. Subsequently, using a standard syringe or a bulb in the blood bag’s tubing that creates suction, they draw at least 40 milliliters of blood from the umbilical cord into the bag. The bag is then sealed inside a kit. Research shows this approach produces a larger blood volume.
  • The third approach happens outside the uterus. In this method, your birthing team waits until the placenta gets delivered. Then it’s handed over to a trained technician. The technician will take the fresh placenta to a room and place it on a high shelf, allowing all the blood inside the umbilical cord and placenta to drain into a blood bag. Like the other methods, the bag is sealed inside a kit. 

In either of the methods, once the blood bag is sealed and placed in the controlled kit, it’s sent to your designated umbilical cord blood bank for testing, processing, and storage. All these methods are non-invasive, risk-free and safe for the infant and the mother. Furthermore, the entire process, from preliminary forms to collection, doesn’t interfere with the birth plan, labor and delivery management or aftercare of the infant and mother. It’s a safe and straightforward process.

Why is Cord Blood Banking Important?

From medical research to disease treatment, many reasons make it worthwhile to consider umbilical cord blood banking.

Accessibility to an Invaluable Medical Resource

Since the cells in cord blood are primitive and immature and therefore unpolluted, saving the cells in the blood bank immediately after birth could prove to be a valuable medical resource for your family or others. The process offers you and your family an opportunity to capture your child’s unique stem cell — a lifetime opportunity.

Treatment of Diseases 

At least 80 known diseases can be treated using umbilical cord blood. These include cancers (neuroblastoma, blood disorders), sickle-cell anemia, bone marrow failure syndrome (Fanconi anemia, metabolic disorders), Krabbe disease and immune system disorders (DiGeorge disease). Some of these diseases are rare medical conditions with limited treatment options. In contrast, others like anemia, leukemia and cancer are well-known. Cord blood from unknown donors can help your loved ones treat life-threatening diseases like sickle cell disease, leukemia and anemia. That way, they can enjoy a normal life, and the family can have peace of mind.

Increases the Chances of a Successful Transplant 

For a transplant to be successful, a patient and the donor must have closely matching human leukocytes antigen (HLA). Your infant’s cord blood banked privately can be a potential lifesaver if they suffer a non-genetically induced medical disorder later in life since they won’t have to join the long queue of patients awaiting a donor. Siblings or relatives suffering from a condition that needs a stem cell transplant can also use it. Children inherit their HLA types from their parents. Therefore, a sibling is likely to provide a close match for family members.

Investment in your Family's Health

Donating your infant’s umbilical cord blood can be one of the best biological insurance you offer them. The reason is that scientists believe the complete application of stem cells is yet to be determined. In the future, cord blood may help treat the most common but complex diseases. Then you would have made a significant family investment.

Life-Saving Opportunity 

As a primary source of hematopoietic stem cells, cord blood has proven helpful in replacing and rebuilding blood cells damaged by diseases, old age and trauma. Over 40,000 successful transplants have been carried out using stem cells from cord blood banks in the 34 years after their first use. Cord blood offers a life-saving opportunity for loved ones suffering from medical conditions requiring transplants.

Research Application 

Cord blood banks offer researchers a raw material and an essential ingredient for life-saving research — stem cells. Current scientific research shows that using cord blood stem cells in regenerative clinical trials for disorders like cerebral palsy and autism can be beneficial. Research is ongoing on whether stem cells can offer potential treatments for brain injury, spinal cord injury and strokes. Clinical trials are ongoing and more are starting.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is saving umbilical cord blood worth it?


Saving cord blood is worth it from the perspective of family health and community health. When you donate, you’re potentially offering a lifeline to someone unknown or contributing to life-changing scientific research. When you bank privately, you’re helping protect your family’s life.


How much does cord blood banking cost?


Public umbilical cord blood banking is free. However, private banking can cost over $2,000 plus an annual storage fee of over $125.