Cord Tissue Banking Pros and Cons

Decisions, decisions. It seemed like pregnancy was all about decisions. Like, breastmilk or formula? I would second guess every decision made. Because there was so much happening, so fast. Nine months. Not a very long time. Considering I had taken two years to plan my wedding. Some decisions were easy: I chose to birth in the hospital. I had a great relationship with my OB/GYN. Childcare was hard, but my due diligence paid off.

Then there was that one little pamphlet sent home with us after our prenatal classes. Umbilical cord blood banking. Sure, play on my emotions. Sell me an assurance about insuring my child’s wellbeing in the event that s/he was born with a life threatening disorder. I had to take the emotions out of it. But halfway through my pregnancy, I admit it was hard. Those emotions made it a hard sell to walk away from.

Let’s weigh the pros and cons of cord tissue banking. Hopefully, you’ll be better able to decide if it’s right for you and your child.

The Pros

Over the past decade the discussion about stem cells has grown significantly. Basically stem cells are the basic cells that can morph into different cell types. Given their interchangeability, they can target disorders throughout the body. Stem cells are in the marrow, placenta, and umbilical cord. That blood in the umbilical cord is rich in stem cells. What’s even better is gathering umbilical stem cells is a painless procedure for mother and child, and the blood is easier to match with patients.

Cord blood therapies have been gaining in success. Treatments and outcomes continue to improve. Likewise, the promise for future medical usage is also bright. As the understanding of cord blood and stem cells improves, so does the scope of treatments offered. For example, cerebral palsy treatments are now in the trial stages. Conditions once thought to be chronic or fatal are now on the cusp of therapies that can reverse those disorders.

If you’re concerned about the accessibility of your own cord blood, don’t be. Options are available for private banks. A private bank will reserve your cord blood for your family’s use only. Researchers will not have access to it. Public banks, on the other hand, will make your blood available to researchers. All points to keep in mind.

The Cons

Here’s where the considerations come into play. Looking up at the storage options, things can get pricey. Moreover, having your health insurance to pay for the collection and storage is not always an option. I considered the private bank but then balked when I saw the cost. Typical collection prices for private banks average close to $2,000. Annual storage fees are also a consideration, averaging at about $100 annually. Public banks charge no fees whatsoever. While there is no guarantee to have access to your own cord blood, keep in mind that the costs may not outweigh the benefits.

First, your child may never need it. Never, ever. That’s right. The odds are extremely high in guaranteeing that your child will not be born with or develop a condition that requires this type of treatment.

Secondly, not all conditions are treatable with cord blood. Remember the hard sell that tested my emotions? That’s exactly what it was. A hard sell of an assurance, but not insurance. There was no guarantee that my child would ever need the cord blood. Why? All those disorders that frighten us most are typically genetic conditions.

Your child’s cord blood would carry the same genetic condition that caused the disorder. In light of this, it would be useless in treating that disorder. In this situation a public bank would offer insurance against this situation. However, the cord blood from your child could treat another immediate family member with a genetic condition.

Is it usable?

A little known fact not disclosed to parents is that the majority of all cord blood may be unusable. Most of the cord blood stored in private banks ends up destroyed or used in research. At the time of harvest, it’s common that too few stem cells are collected. The parent and child have a sample that does not support transplant therapy. Sadly that reassurance some parents had never really existed.

While the future for cord blood treatments looks bright, that blood may have an expiration date. As such, some doctors warn that the blood is no longer viable after fifteen years. Sure, this is well within the window for most childhood disorders. But what about those disorders that appear in the late teen years or early adulthood? It’s obvious to many that private banking of cord blood is not the failsafe many parents thought it to be.

Coming back to public banks, it’s important to note that cord blood does not have to be a perfect match to work.

Other Considerations

Unfortunately, cord blood banks aren’t easily accessible. Currently, it’s estimated that only 100 hospitals across the U.S. have access to these services. Additionally, each bank has its own registry. However, those odds should improve as the U.S. Congress has authorized the creation of a centralized registry.

The End Result

Admittedly, I did not opt for the storage of our baby’s cord blood. For the most part, the costs and risks didn’t seem to outweigh any potential benefit.

However, if I were to choose again, I would probably opt for the public bank. Understanding that I would most likely never access the blood is one consideration. Next is the fact that my own child’s cord blood would not be able to treat a genetic condition. Arguably, the public banking option offers the best in diverse treatment options for a child.

With science quickly progressing in researching the benefits of cord tissue banking, now is a better time than ever to consider the possibilities it offers. As the research grows, so will the benefits. Like any decision we face as parents, it’s all about deciding which option offers the greatest benefit to our children now and in the future.