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July 26, 2016

More and more expectant parents are making the choice to bank their baby’s cord blood immediately after they’re born. Rebecca Williamson explains how it works and what you need to know.

You’ve bought the bassinet and the car capsule and you’ve written the birth plan – but there’s another important decision to be made before your bundle of joy finally arrives: will you or won’t you bank your baby’s cord blood? While your individual circumstances should be discussed with your LMC or GP before making this decision, here’s an overview of the process.

How it works

The blood from your baby’s umbilical cord is rich in powerful stem cells, which are considered to be the ‘building blocks’ of the body. These healing cells can potentially be used to treat some serious diseases and conditions well into adulthood, and have been used to regenerate healthy blood and immune systems in thousands of transplants worldwide.

The process of retrieving these stem cells is fairly straightforward. Immediately after the birth of your baby, your LMC draws the blood from the umbilical cord into a collection bag, which takes less than five minutes. Cord blood can be collected at any hospital or birthing centre in New Zealand, as well as at home births. Collection at water births is not recommended, however, as there is a chance of contamination from the water and a mother needs to be lying down to facilitate the collection of the blood.

CordBank is the only licensed private cord blood bank in New Zealand and the blood is promptly couriered to its Auckland base where it is tested for cell viability, processed, placed in a canister, and frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196°C. The super stem cells in cord blood can develop into blood and immune system cells as well as other types of cells, and can help treat some life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancers, genetic disorders, injuries and immune deficiencies.

Cord blood stem cells have an advantage over other stem cells in that they are younger and have had limited exposure to viruses and other environmental factors, and are not damaged by the ageing process. This, combined with the fact that your child’s cord blood is an exact DNA match, means it won’t be rejected by their system in the event of treatment. There is also no known expiration date on cord blood stored at -196°C, so it could still be a golden ticket to treating illness later in life.

The use of cord blood to treat conditions such as diabetes and cerebral palsy is unproven at this point. There are also some illnesses that currently need to be treated with allogeneic stem cells from a matching donor (such as a sibling), rather than your child’s own autologous cells from their own cord blood. As medical science advances however, and more research is conducted in this area, who knows what medical issues cord blood may be able to treat in years to come.

In the meantime, if you have a family history of disease or conditions, cord blood banking can be a sort of ‘insurance policy’ on your child’s – and potentially their siblings’ – health. Parents need to discuss the issues and make an informed decision before their baby’s birth.

The cost of the service is $2,900 and an annual storage fee of $225 applies.

To learn more about the lifesaving value of cord blood stem cells, and how to arrange to save your baby’s cord blood, go to cordbank.co.nz or phone 0800 CORDBANK


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