Just minutes after your baby is born, he or she can begin saving lives. How? The answer is remarkably simple—the umbilical cord that once nourished your baby can be used to treat others in desperate need of a transplant through cord blood.
Donating your baby's cord blood is safe and painless for you and your baby because the blood is collected after birth, once the umbilical cord is cut. If the cord blood meets certain requirements and isn't used for medical research, it will be placed on a registry where it can be accessed by transplant surgeons to treat a patient who needs a stem cell transplant and is deemed a good match with your baby's blood.
What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the blood found in the umbilical cord and in the placenta after a baby is born. Generally, the afterbirth is discarded as waste, but research shows what was once considered useless waste is invaluable in curing many diseases. This means that people facing illnesses such as leukemia, lymphoma, and certain types of tumors can be treated by a stem cell transplant.
According to Wayne Borcherding, lab manager at the University of Wisconsin, Madison Stem Cell Laboratory, stem cells are "more immature cells, and the cord blood is very rich in early stem cells." The stem cells are transplanted into the recipient intravenously (through an IV). "The biggest reason that cord blood donation is so important is that it does not mean an invasive procedure [for mother, baby, or patient]," says Borcherding.
In some cases, the use of stem cells found in cord blood is taking the place of painful and time-consuming bone marrow transplants.
Who will take my donation?
The decision to donate the cord blood should be made by the 34th week of pregnancy to give enough notice to the cord blood banks through the doctor. Once a donation site is found, the mother will fill out a health history questionnaire and give a small sample of blood. Doctors will then search the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) for a patient needing a transplant. Once a patient is found, the cord blood will be transplanted into the patient matching the blood type after the baby is born.
How much does it cost?
There is no cost to donate cord blood. Donor banks take care of the procedure in covering the cost of storing the cord blood; however, some parents wish to have the option of storing the cord blood for their personal family use and will pay a fee for storage. Information about banks that will hold cord blood for private family usage can be found at www.parentsguidecordblood.com. When considering cord blood donation, be sure you understand the difference between donating the cord blood to others in need and storing it for your family's use.
Who can donate?
To donate cord blood, the pregnant woman needs to sign a consent form before the birth giving permission to collect the cord blood. Without her signature, the cord blood cannot be saved. Women with cancer, insulin-dependent diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, organ transplant recipients, and women with infectious diseases are generally not allowed to donate. The decision to donate the cord blood must be made before the birth since the blood is obtained moments after delivery.