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Q&A: Should I Bank His Umbilical Cord Blood?

Q. Should I bank my baby's umbilical cord blood?

A. Umbilical cord blood contains a large number of stem cells that can be used to treat several pediatric cancers, blood diseases, and genetic disorders. Typically the umbilical cord blood is discarded after birth. In recent years, however, parents have had the option of saving some of their baby's umbilical cord blood in case the baby--or a family member--needs stem cells sometime in the future.

Parents who choose to save their baby's cord blood arrange to have it collected immediately after birth and stored by a commercial blood bank. This can be expensive: Collection costs as much as $1,750, and parents are charged annual storage fees of $50 to $100.

Storing cord blood makes sense for parents who have a family history of certain kinds of genetic diseases, immune disorders, or cancers. However, for people with none of these diseases in their family, the chance of needing a transplant from cord-blood stem cells is only 1 in 20,000.

Parents also have the option of donating their baby's cord blood to a public bank so it can help others who need stem cell transplants. This option is available only in certain parts of the United States; ask your doctor if there is a public bank in your area. (For more information on public cord banking, contact the National Marrow Donor Program at 800-627-7692 or www.marrow.org.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers cord-blood stem cell transplantation to be an encouraging area of research but still in the investigative stage. Storing blood privately as biological insurance for your child's use in the future is not worth doing, the AAP says. However, the AAP does endorse the collection of cord blood from babies with siblings who have conditions such as leukemia or other blood diseases. The AAP also encourages public banking of cord blood.

The decision to save cord blood is both personal and financial. If you think it's the right choice for your family, discuss it with your doctor or a genetic counselor. Do not feel guilty if you decide against it.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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