There’s an often overlooked way for expectant parents to protect the health of the new baby and his or her relatives. Cord blood is a rich source of unique stem cells that can be collected without invasive procedures or ethical concerns and used in medical treatments for the child, siblings and others if the need arises.
Umbilical cord blood is typically discarded as medical waste, but new parents can ask that it be banked. Private cord blood banking saves the stem cells for the exclusive use of the child and family. Cord blood can also be donated to free public banking facilities that can use it to benefit many people.
The procedure involves no risk at all to the mother or to the baby. It takes about five minutes and is completely painless. Blood is collected after the umbilical cord has been cut, so there is no pain, discomfort, or harm.
Regenerative medicine, in which an individual’s own stem cells are used to repair damaged or diseased tissues and organs, is among the most promising areas of medical research. Though only about half a percent of infants develop conditions currently treatable with cord blood cells, scientists are expanding the potential uses of these cells every day. Clinical trials are now under way to evaluate the benefits of using a child’s cord blood stem cells in the treatment of type 1 diabetes, hearing loss, cerebral palsy and other brain injuries.
Cord blood stem cells have already been used for over 20 years to help reduce transplant rejection and instead of bone marrow in the treatment of leukemia and other cancers and blood, immune and metabolic disorders.
Ideally, you’ll never need the banked blood—your baby will hopefully have a long and healthy life. However, knowing cord blood stem cells are available if they are needed can provide parents like you with security and peace of mind. The cells may also be effective in treating some conditions that might affect a parent or sibling.
It’s important to decide whether you want to bank—and inform labor personnel of your decision—sooner rather than later. Cord blood can only be collected in the first fifteen minutes after the birth, so you should be sure the doctor or birth attendant knows if you’re doing it as soon as possible.