By Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman, Mary Duenwald

Umbilical cord blood is sometimes saved because it contains stem cells, the kind of cells that can be used to treat a variety of blood disorders, such as some that may develop later in the child’s life, like severe anemia. The decision of whether to donate cord blood is a personal one and based on many factors.

The cost involved and your feelings about how important this is to your family play a role in the decision-making process.

If you do decide to donate, you can utilize either of two different types of banks to store cord blood:

  • Public banks: Public banks store blood from a variety of individuals at no cost to those who choose to donate. These banks amass thousands upon thousands of cord blood specimens, thus maximizing the chances of a tissue “match” for anyone who might need it. Given that these samples are available to the public, the children who donate them lose control of the cells after they donate the cells.

  • Private banks: Private banks, on the other hand, charge the donor (or her family) an up-front fee to process the cells and a yearly fee to store the cells. The cells stay in the bank until the donor or a family member needs them. Research has shown the likelihood of the donor or a family member actually needing the cells is about 1 in 2,700.

Not all hospitals have the facilities to collect umbilical cord blood for public banks. If you decide not to donate or can’t afford to, you shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty. Some people feel that investing the money that you would have spent on cord blood storage can provide more of a potential benefit to your child than the stem cells.

Considering your options well before delivery is important. If you opt for a private bank, you’ll need to complete the paperwork, get the collection kit from the company, and take it with you when you go in to deliver. You should also inform your provider that you want to have the cord blood collected so that she’ll be prepared at the time of delivery.