Cord blood 101


NICU_2K16-0293_2K16-0293_PVK_8228 Baby Boemer - photo by Paul Vincent Kuntz

July is cord blood awareness month! Below I’ll answer common questions about cord blood. What is cord blood? Cord blood is blood collected from the umbilical cord of an infant immediately after birth.

There are three main reasons cord blood might be collected:

  1. All infants have a small sample of cord blood collected in case a lab test needs to be run due to the condition of the baby at birth. In addition, all babies whose mothers are Rh-negative have their blood type analyzed to determine whether the mother requires an injection to protect her from becoming Rh sensitized.
  2. If there is concern regarding the oxygenation status of the baby during labor, a sample of blood is drawn from the umbilical cord artery and vein separately for analysis.
  3. Some parents wish to have a larger sample blood collected from the umbilical cord for blood banking. Fetal blood contains special cells (stem cells) which may be useful in the treatment of certain uncommon diseases later in the child’s life, or in some cases may be used to treat diseases in family members or unrelated persons. In such cases, these cells may be used instead of bone marrow cells, and have some advantages over later cell collection from the bone marrow of donors.

What are the most recent studies saying about cord blood? What are the current recommendations? Cord blood may be donated to public cord banks, which store it without charge and use it to help a wide variety of individuals. Private blood banking, in which the cells are saved for exclusive future use of related individuals, is expensive, seldom actually used and is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics as “biologic insurance” against future disease. Nevertheless, some parents choose to use such services.

What are the benefits of storing and/or donating cord blood? How might it be used in the future? For most children, there is no benefit to storing cord blood, although donating it may help other individuals who need stem cell therapy to treat various malignant, genetic or blood disorders. In rare cases, when a family member is already in need of such therapy, cord blood may help a specific family member with one of these disorders.

How is cord blood collected? A clamp is placed on the cord prior to cutting it at birth. Once the cord is removed, the blood from the cord and placenta are drained into a special container. You can still donate cord blood even if you do delayed cord clamping.

To learn more about cord blood, please visit www.acog.org/More-Info/CordBloodBanking.