Understanding the pros and cons of public vs. private cord banking

James Christmas, MD, Maternal-Fetal Medicine

Umbilical cord blood is blood that is left in the placenta and in the attached umbilical cord after childbirth. Cord blood contains a rich supply of blood-forming stem cells that can be collected and stored for future use to help cure a host of life-threatening genetic disorders. More than eighty illnesses are treated using stem cells, including anemias, leukemias and other cancers, and metabolic disorders. The cord blood is composed of all the elements found in whole blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, platelets, and hematopoietic stem cells (from the Greek words for "blood" and "to make"). These stem cells can grow into blood and immune system cells, and cord blood may be used as a substitute for bone marrow in stem cell transplants.

Cord Blood Collection

Most programs that accept cord blood donations require the mother to enroll by the 34th week of pregnancy. This allows the cord blood bank enough time to complete the enrollment process and for the mother to pass a health history screening to ensure the safety of the cord blood for anyone who may use it. The method for collecting cord blood is very similar to normal blood collection procedures. A technician cuts and clamps the umbilical cord and uses a needle connected to a sterile blood bag to transfer the blood. It is then cryopreserved and shipped in a special temperature-controlled container to be stored in a cord blood bank. The collection process is safe and painless for both the mother and child.

Private vs. Public Storage Options

Cord blood banks are either private or public. In private facilities, sometimes called family banks, the cost to store the cord blood is paid for by the donor and reserved only for use by the baby or the baby’s family. Storage costs are approximately $1300-$2200 and most private banks also charge an annual storage fee. It is worth noting that, despite the claims of some private cord banks, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that the odds of using one’s own cord blood is estimated at only 1 in 200,000. In addition, The American Medical Association reports that "Private banking should be considered in the unusual circumstance when there exists a family predisposition to a condition in which umbilical cord stem cells are therapeutically indicated. However, because of its cost, limited likelihood of use, and inaccessibility to others, private banking should not be recommended to low-risk families." For these reasons, public cord banking is often recommended instead because almost all cord blood transfusions come from public cord banks.

In public cord banking facilities, cord blood is available for use by anyone, not just the original donor. Public banks do not charge for donating cord blood. It costs approximately $30,000 to obtain a cord blood collection from a public bank, but that cost typically is charged to the patient’s healthcare insurance. In addition, cord blood donated to a public bank will be listed on the Be The Match Registry®, where it is available for anyone in need of a transplant. Cord blood donation is encouraged for most pregnancies, but women who have twins or premature births will need to consult their physician for advice about whether donation is right for them. To locate a hospital that participates in cord blood collection for public banks, or to find a mail-in program, visit Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation.

To learn more about Dr. Christmas or Commonwealth Perinatal Medicine, please visit: Commonwealth Perinatal Services.

Parents Guide to Cord Blood Foundation
Be the Match®