It’s the precious lifeline that connects you to bub for nine months, nourishes and feeds, before being cut when your little tot is finally in your arms. But the umbilical cord isn’t just a life-giver, it’s a lifesaver.
A newborn’s umbilical cord is pulsing with stem cells, which are used to treat life-threatening diseases including cancers. One of the big decisions you’ll need to make during your pregnancy is whether or not to bank your baby’s cord blood, which is full of stem cells. Baby cord blood can be donated to help sick Australians battling illness, or stored privately for your own family’s use in the future.
It’s a hefty decision, so here’s what you need to know about stem cell storage.
What are stem cells?
First, we need to rewind a little to the birthing suite. The moment you’ve been waiting for, a precious bub in your arms. But for just a little while, even when bub is safely earthside, they’re still connected to their womb world via the umbilical cord. This incredible collection of blood vessels attaches to the placenta and gives babies nutrition as they grow over nine months.
The blood that’s left in the umbilical cord is rich with stem cells, and it’s these incredible cells that are harvested if you nominate for stem cell collection.
What’s so special about stem cells?
Stem cells are incredible. Here’s why:
- They help the growth and repair of body tissue
- They can turn into blood cells, bones and cartilage
And because they do these things, it means they’re used to treat:
- leukaemia and lymphoma
- aplastic anaemia, thalassaemia and other blood disorders
- immune deficiency
- metabolic disorders
Stem cells can actually save lives.
In Australia, we’re able to either bank our baby’s cord blood to use for our own family or even donate the cells to the public. These anonymous donations work the same way as organ donation and are done free of charge, with no payment to you.
How can I store my stem cells for donation?
You’ll need to talk to your midwife or obstetrician and let them know that you’re intending to have your cord blood collected, whether it’s for donation or personal storage.
If you’re donating your cord blood, you’ll also need to organise it with your hospital and fill out consent forms that include details on your health and travel history. You’ll also have a blood test to check for diseases. Once bub is born, the cord is cut and blood is taken from the cord. Some of the blood is kept aside for testing, the rest will be frozen and stored at a cord blood bank.
The cord blood will be checked to see if it can be used for treatment, if not it can be used for research if you agree. You can withdraw consent for up to 30 days after the birth. Otherwise, when bub is six-months-old, you’ll both have a free health check and if clear the blood will be used.
It’s worth knowing that if one of your own family members needs a cord blood transplant down the track, you can actually have access to your own cord blood. But only if the cord blood unit is still in the bank, and suitable.
How can I store my stem cells for personal use?
If you want to keep your bub’s cord blood for your own family’s use, you’ll need to use a private cord blood bank. It does incur ongoing fees, and you’ll have to chat with the hospital you’re giving birth in to organise collection (just keep in mind there are some hospitals that don’t allow cord blood collection for private banking).
There are several different private cord blood banks in Australia with different costs and collection procedures. Some allow you to do the entire process online (including medical questionnaire) and send you a collection kit. The cord blood will still be collected the same way, and then sent back in the kit via a courier, before being frozen and stored until it’s needed. You’ll still have to undergo a blood test for infectious diseases, which is a government requirement.
The cost of privately storing your baby’s cord blood varies with each bank. There’s usually an initial deposit of a couple of hundred dollars and then the ongoing cost of keeping the cord blood frozen and store.
Can I still have delayed cord clamping if I want bub’s cord blood collected?
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to have delayed cord clamping at birth if you’re planning on having the cord blood collected. The cord has to be clamped early to capture the most stem cells
Read next …
How fascinating are umbilical cords?! Take a look at our previous articles on umbilical cords and the placenta:
- Birth ritual: umbilical cord burning
- How delayed cord clamping could save premature babies
- The third stage of labour: placenta delivery
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