Cord blood: Donate it, don’t bank it

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Add this to the list of things expecting couples have to deal with: heavy-handed sales pitches from companies urging private banking of cord blood. They say “It could save your baby’s life!” How could anyone say no?

You’re not going to hear the whole story from these private, for-profit companies. They’ve got an estimated 1 billion dollar-a-year industry cooking, and there are things they do not want you to know:

  • It is phenomenally unlikely that your privately banked cord blood will ever be used by anyone.
  • Even if your baby ends up needing a cord blood transplant, he’ll almost certainly need someone else’s cord blood—not his own.
  • Even if by some remarkable chance you baby needs his own cord blood, many of the donated samples may not be suitable for use. No tests will be done to determine this until the blood is retrieved—you may have paid thousands up front plus a substantial year fee to store, well, nothing at all.

Cord blood is the blood that’s left in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth. It’s usually incinerated. However, cord blood is rich in stem cells—cells that have the potential to develop into many different body tissues. In an emerging field of research and therapeutics, cord blood has been used successfully to treat a number of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, metabolic disorders, and rare genetic syndromes. About 2000 cord blood procedures are performed each year worldwide, and that number is probably growing. Communities and non-profits are setting up public banks, similar to blood banks, for families to donate the cord blood at no cost so that other families in need can find cord blood that matches.

But competing with these public banks are private companies trying to convince parents to pay thousands to bank the cord blood only for themselves. Their web sites (and you’ll notice I’m not linking to any of them) are rife with misinformation, half-truths, and slimy marketing weasel-talk that’s designed not to help your family’s health, but to get the money out of your family’s wallet. There have been troubling charges of kickbacks to doctors and hospitals for their lucrative referrals, and the industry itself has grown 2100% over the last seven years. We’re talking Big Money here, billions of dollars a year, and the competition for new customers is heating up. In other words: someone is getting hosed. And you could be next.

Sales pitches are strongest at the OB’s offices—where pamphlets abound, and expectant couples are at their most vulnerable. I know that at least one of these cord blood banking companies flies the doctors to paid luxury junkets to convince them to let their sales people leave material at the practice. Just a brief positive response from the docs to their patients is money in the bank.

There is one exception: if there is a sibling or another family member who has a specific need for a cord-blood transplant, discuss the situation with a knowledgeable hematologist during the pregnancy to see if the cord blood might be useful.

Expecting couples should look into cord blood donation to a public facility. As more families donate, there will be more cord blood available both for treatments and for research. That makes a whole lot more sense to me than spending thousands of dollars to let your baby’s cord blood sit unused in a freezer.

Adapted from a post originally published 2/2009

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7 Comments on “Cord blood: Donate it, don’t bank it”

  1. Carrie Buchanan Says:

    Thank you , thank you, thank you for this post. As a mother who is finished having children (but all 3 kiddos are still very young) I still have panic moments when I feel guilty about my decision not to bank my babies cord blood. It’s a shame that companies make mothers feel like they are doing their children “harm” by not investing in their horrible marketing tactics


  2. Megan Says:

    I donated with my first two pregnancies, but now that I am expecting number three, I have been talking to my OB about delayed cord clamping. The emerging research on delayed clamping seems worth it to me. My OB says that it is hard to donate after a delayed clamping because there’s just not enough cord blood left to donate. Thoughts?


  3. Dr. Roy Says:

    My impression is that the support for delayed cord clamping is weak. I believe the only positive study showed a marginally improved iron status, and even that wasn’t consistent, and was probably clinically irrelevant. Delayed cord clamping, IF it interferes with other care, can prevent warming and drying, which are important.

    I will look into this in more depth and write a post with links after a more-thorough investigation. Thanks for the idea!


  4. Laura Says:

    Thank you for writing this. I was researching donating my son’s cord blood and it’s a very complicated process if you are not near a public bank.


  5. Please keep the topic of delayed cord blood clamping on your radar. There are emerging studies that suggest it may very well be worth doing in a variety of circumstances, but not necessarily in every one.

    Excellent article on the value of cord blood donation, too.


  6. Fitness Consultant & Physiotherapist Says:

    Reblogged this on Fit 4 Soul and commented:
    Stem cell banking for a new born- read carefully before deciding


  7. supermouse Says:

    I wanted to donate the cord blood but was told (I don’t remember who by) that they couldn’t take it from us, since I had a complicated twin pregnancy. Any idea why that might have been the case? (I wasn’t too bothered, I figured if they could use it great, if not oh well, but I am curious.)


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