Once retrieved, the blood is shipped to a cord blood bank where the stem cells are processed and preserved at sub zero temperature for a fee.
Benefits of Stem Cells from Cord Blood
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. It has a much 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. Such pathogens can cause serious infections in transplant patients or those that are immunocompromised.
Rapid vs Delayed Cord Clamping
Many prospective parents do not realize that when they opt to bank their newborn baby’s cord blood, birth attendants are more likely to cut the umbilical cord early. This means within 30 seconds of birth! Rapid cord clamping ensures an adequate amount of cord blood is collected very easily.
This is not desirable for baby, however. The umbilical cord should never be cut until it has completely stopped pulsing. A 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. This is especially dangerous in those crucial minutes as the baby transitions to breathing on his/her own.
Health Issues from Early Clamping
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 delayed cord cutting (2 minutes) reduced anemia by half and low iron levels by one third.
Problems from Delayed Clamping Unfounded
In babies where cord clamping is delayed, the chance of polycythemia and jaundice are heightened. This is due to an increased level of circulating red blood cells. However, this has proven to be of no concern in reality. 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 cord cutting 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. This is why discussion of your desire to delay the cord cutting needs to be discussed well in advance of the birth. Such a conversation is important even if you don’t plan to bank your baby’s cord blood!
Delayed Cord Clamping AND Fetal Stem Cells (yes, it’s possible!)
Do you wish to delay cord clamping and collect stem cells? Be sure to establish this goal with your OB or midwife right away. Clearly state your desire for the umbilical cord to be cut only once it stops pulsing. This signals that blood flow to your baby is maximized. Next, inform your practitioner about how to retrieve stem cells via alternative method.
How? 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 likely take a bit more time and effort to retrieve the cord blood this way than from the umbilical cord. However, the extra effort is well worth it! There is no reason to avoid delayed cord clamping and potentially harm the newborn to obtain stem cells. Both goals are easily achieved if practitioners would simply think out of the box!
This is exactly the method I used, by the way. So, I know firsthand that it definitely works ♥.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist