Cord Blood Banking – Private or Donate?

If you are pregnant for a few months now, I’m sure you have heard about cord blood banking. If not, you might want to find out more about it. Don’t let your cord blood go into waste! Cord blood is the blood in your baby’s umbilical cord and it contains potentially lifesaving stem cells. These cells can grow into blood vessels, organs, and tissues and so can help repair them and also treat a host of diseases.

There are four options for your baby’s cord blood: 

  1. Throw the cord blood away (totally not recommended).
  2. Pay to store the cord blood in a private cord blood bank for your family’s use.
  3. Donate it to a sibling/family member who has an existing medical need.
  4. Donate the cord blood to a public cord blood bank for public use.

To avoid scenario 1, you have to make arrangements for option 2, 3 or 4 BEFORE labour or admission into hospital for delivery. If you decide to store or donate the cord blood during or after delivery, the doctor and nurses wouldn’t be able to do anything about it but throw away the cord blood.

Cord Blood Banking

Cord Blood Banking

It’s considered cord blood banking for options 2,3 and 4.

Cord blood banking means collecting the cord blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta right after birth and storing it for future medical use. The collection process is painless and safe for both mother and baby, and usually takes less than 10 minutes.

Cord Blood Collection Process 

After giving birth vaginally or by c-section, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut in the usual way. You can still delay cord clamping but for no more than 1-2 minutes. If it’s too long, the blood in the cord will clot and become of no use.

While waiting for the placenta to be delivered, the residual cord blood is collected from the umbilicus vein of the cord that’s still attached to the placenta. A needle will be inserted into the cord and blood is drained into a collection bag. Cord blood collection is completed when the placenta is expelled.

The blood collected will then be shipped to the blood bank for testing and processing. If acceptable, the blood will cryopreserved (preserved frozen) for storage.

Cord Blood Banking

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Option 2: Cord Blood Private Bank 

You pay private blood banks an upfront fee to store your baby’s cord blood and an annual premium to maintain it for your family’s future medical use. It’s kind of like insurance.

Cordlife or Cryoviva are two major private cord blood bankers in Singapore. The former is big in marketing – sponsoring seminars and freebies in all sort of goodies bags. The latter is newer in the market but share storage facility with the public bank, Singapore Cord Blood Bank (“SCBB”).

Before I got to explore this option in depth, I have a friend who convinced me to drop this idea. She was adamant to sign up for private storage until her friend who did an in-depth research shared his findings with her. The main finding that swayed our positions is that the cord blood stored is meant more for other family members such as siblings and parents rather than for the baby. Even so, the cells in the blood might not be a match for the family members.

Based on marketing information out there, I always assumed cord blood banking is for the baby’s benefit. Yes, the baby can benefit, but it has a very low possibility. For one, if the baby is sick and need a new stem cell, he most probably wouldn’t be able to benefit from his own cord blood, since the cells in the blood will have the same deficiency that made him unwell in the first place (this is confirmed by a representative from SCBB).

And findings have shown that only a small percentage of cord blood privately stored are used. This means the general possibility of using the cord blood stored for own family is quite low, unless there’s some future medical breakthrough to expand its use.

Option 3: Direct Family Donation

You can also choose to donate the baby’s cord blood to a biological sibling who has an existing medical need. For this option, I extracted the following information of directed donation from SCBB’s website:

If a current biological sibling has been diagnosed with a condition that requires a ‘Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation’, and the mother is expecting a baby, SCBB recommends that parents save the baby’s umbilical cord blood for a directed donation.

Please inform the sibling’s haematologist / oncologist for a referral to SCBB’s Related Donor Cord Blood Programme. SCBB is unable to accept directed donation without a referral.  SCBB should be contacted and informed of the directed donation between 28 – 36 weeks of gestation.

Cord Blood Donation

How to donate?

Since we are not going to bank the cord blood privately, we decided it will be best to donate our baby’s cord blood to save other lives. Check if you are eligible to donate and if you are delivering at a participating hospital.

We called the SCBB hotline at 6394-5011 for a pre-screening evaluation. During the call, I had to give my contact and hospital/doctor details and answer a few basic medical questions.

Donation Process

Another person called me back with more detailed questions about my husband and my medical histories, including our families. This is to ensure that the mother and infant meet SCBB’s criteria for donation. When done, she arranged for a Donor Coordinator to meet me at my gynecologist’s clinic when I was there for my check up.

This is when the Donor Coordinator went through with me a really thorough screening questionnaire of a few pages! The questions include lifestyle, sexual history and family medical history of both my hubby and myself. The coordinator went through the questions really fast. I had to be really attentive and be ready to stop her when in doubt. Kind of drained answering these questions halfway through. And the thing was, we were in the middle of the waiting area while answering these sensitive questions!

Think the meeting took about 30 to 45 minutes. At the end of the meeting, I had to sign quite a number of consent forms for the donation. This Informed Consent is obtained from the mother between 32nd week until before hospital admission for delivery.

Strict Criteria for Donation

SCBB has strict criteria to ensure that all cord blood units collected meet the safe medical standards for future cord blood transplants. Hence, the need for the pre-screening and detailed questionnaire to make sure the source of cord blood is “clean” of diseases.

They will also be drawing blood from the mummy after delivery to send it for testing. This is to ensure that the cord blood is really not contaminated, either because of false declaration during screening or of something that might happen to the mummy/infant after the mother’s informed consent.

Moreover, SCBB will follow up with the mummy 3 months and 1 year after delivery. This is to check that both the mummy and baby are in good condition before releasing the cord blood after one year. If for any reason the cord blood is rejected, you can still opt for it to be used in medical research.

Benefits of donating?  

First and foremost, save a life! SCBB also partners with hospitals in US. So your donation might help save a life as far as the US. You might have heard of patients with cancer or leukemia who did not get well from chemotherapy. They will then do a stem cell transplant from the bone marrow that creates a new blood and immune system. Unlike the stem cells in bone marrow, stem cells in cord blood are immature and less likely to reject the transfusion. Thus it is easier to match transplant patients with cord blood than with other sources of stem cells.

You don’t get into a priority queue, but SCBB will waive off the fee when you request for cord blood donation. I think it’s the fee to process and transport the cord blood to the hospital doing the transplant. I believe the quality of cord blood collected for donation is higher and the conditions to store them are stricter than private banks. So you might ultimately be getting better stem cells than those stored privately.

Anyway, if you change your mind to donate on the day of delivery, simply tell the nurses you don’t want to donate anymore. It’s all well. 🙂

Have you decided to private bank or donate your baby’s cord blood? Feel free to share your stand or ask about cord blood banking below.

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