A Warning: Fetal Cord Blood Banking

by Sarah Healthy Pregnancy, Baby & ChildComments: 17

Banking of a newborn baby’s stem cells after birth is an increasingly popular option for parents as a sort of additional health insurance policy for their baby and other family members.     The procedure involves obtaining 3-5 oz of fetal cord blood usually from a clamped umbilical cord.   The blood is then shipped to a cord blood bank where the stem cells are processed and preserved at sub zero temperature for a fee.

To date, cord blood has been used to successfully treat over 70 diseases including leukemia, sickle cell anemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and Hodgkins disease among others.     Cord blood has a 25% chance of being a genetic match for full siblings and a 50% chance for parents.    Of course, cord blood is a perfect match for the baby it came from.

Cord blood is preferred to bone marrow as it is less likely to cause life threatening rejection complications.   As a result, using cord blood for a less than perfect match is more likely to work than a similar procedure using bone marrow.   Cord blood is desirable, then, for extended family members as well and has a better chance than bone marrow of not being rejected.   Cord blood is also a more pristine source for stem cells and is much less likely to be contaminated with viruses such as Epstein-Barr which can cause serious infections in transplant patients.

Cord Clamping Procedure

Many prospective parents do not realize that when they opt to bank their newborn baby’s cord blood that the birth attendants are more likely to cut the umbilical cord early (within 30 seconds of birth) in order to ensure an adequate amount of cord blood is collected for the cord blood bank.  This is not desirable, as the umbilical cord should never be cut until it has completely stopped pulsing.  A recent study at the University of South Florida confirms that giving the baby all the cord blood improves outcome, even for healthy, full term infants.    Allowing all the cord blood to flow into the baby may take in excess of 3 full minutes.   Cutting it prior to this point can deprive the baby of much needed oxygen in those crucial minutes as the baby transitions to breathing on its own.

Some scientists have expressed concern that early clamping of the umbilical cord can lead to iron deficiency anemia, brain impairment, and even autism.    David Hutchon, a consultant obstetrician at Darlington Memorial Hospital went so far as to call premature clamping of the umbilical cord “criminal” for at risk and vulnerable babies.    This concern was borne out by a large scale study in 2007 of 1900 newborns where delay of cutting the umbilicus for 2 minutes reduced anemia by half and low iron levels by one third.

In babies where cord clamping is delayed, the chance of polycythemia are heightened (an increased level of circulating red blood cells), but has proven to be of no concern.   In addition, the risk of excessive bleeding in the Mother does not appear to be significantly increased when there is a delay in cutting the umbilical cord. In fact, delay in cutting the cord appears to be of primary benefit to the baby and of little concern for the health of the mother.   It may well prove inconvenient for hospital birthing staff, however, which is why discussion of your desire to delay the cord cutting needs to be discussed well in advance of the birth even if you don’t plan to bank your baby’s cord blood!

How to Get Fetal Cord Blood AND Delay Cutting the Umbilical Cord

Once you’ve established with your OB or midwife that you desire for the umbilical cord to be cut only once it stops pulsing with blood flow into the baby, the next question is how to get cord blood for the cord blood bank?    The answer is from the placenta!    Once the placenta is delivered, the birthing staff can obtain plenty of cord blood to meet this need.    It will likelly take a bit more time and effort to retrieve the cord blood from the placenta versus the umbilical cord.   The extra effort is well worth it given the much improved chances for health in the newborn by doing so!

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

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