You’ve likely heard the phrase “cutting the cord” used to describe the moment a newborn separates from the person who birthed them. Traditionally, the birth partner gets to cut the umbilical cord, symbolizing the baby’s grand entrance into the world. But what happens to that cord after it’s cut? That’s where cord blood banking comes in. 

Let's clear up the confusion around cord blood banking — what it is, why it’s gaining popularity, and address some common questions and misconceptions you might have.

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What is cord blood, anyway? 

Cord blood, found in your baby’s umbilical cord and placenta after birth, is a rich source of powerful stem cells. Cord blood has been used in over 40,000 stem cell transplantations, and over 25,000 patients have been cured with stem cell transplants. 

These stem cells can potentially treat over 80 health conditions, including leukemia, lymphoma, and various genetic disorders.

“Cord blood banking allows families potential access to newborn stem cells for both established treatments and experimental applications,” says Lauren Isley, Senior Clinical Science Specialist for Cord Blood Registry (CBR).

While the exact lifespan of stored cord blood is unknown, experts believe it can remain viable for decades with proper preservation.

How does cord blood banking work?

Cord blood banking collects and stores your baby’s cord blood at birth. There are three main types of cord blood banking services: 

  • Public banks: These banks store donated cord blood units listed on an international registry and made available to patients needing stem cell transplants.

  • Private banks: Also known as “family banks,” private banks store units for potential use by the donor or a matched relative in the family. 

  • Hybrid banks: These banks provide the flexibility of public donation and private storage options, offering a wider range of preferences and needs.  

The process begins with enrollment, where parents choose their preferred type of bank and register with their selected provider. At CBR, this involves a consultation with a Newborn Stem Cell Educator to discuss your options and answer any questions.  

Your cord blood bank will provide a collection kit for the hospital. It has everything needed to collect your little one’s cord blood safely.

Once your baby arrives and the umbilical cord gets cut, a healthcare professional will collect the cord blood and place it in the kit. They’ll take care of getting it safely to the bank’s facility, where it’s processed and stored.

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Who can donate or receive cord blood?

Private cord blood banks generally have less stringent collection requirements than public ones. While public banks adhere to strict standards to ensure high-quality units are available for the public registry, some collected donations can fall short of these criteria and not be listed. 

“There are eligibility requirements to be able to donate cord blood, which take into account maternal and pregnancy health history, as well as characteristics of the cord blood unit itself,” says Isley.

Who might receive cord blood? It depends on the specific case. Privately stored cord blood is reserved for the donor or family member. Cord blood donated to a public bank could be used to treat anyone who is a match.

“A treating physician will determine the appropriateness of a patient receiving a cord blood treatment, regardless of the type of cord blood unit being considered for use,” says Isley.

While cord blood banking might seem like an option for only a few families, it’s actually becoming more accessible than ever. Let’s clear up some common misconceptions:

Cord blood banking is for wealthy people.

It might be less expensive than you think, especially if cord banking is important to you. “We have multiple plans for different family budgets including monthly payment plans, promotions, and there is also a gift registry option,” says Isley.

My baby won't need it.

Many parents choose to bank their baby’s cord blood to safeguard their child's health and well-being. “Your baby is a 100% match to their own stem cells, full siblings have a 75% chance of being at least a partial match, and biological parents are always a partial match,” says Isley.

Cord blood banking is dangerous or painful to collect.

“The process of collecting cord blood is simple and non-invasive and typically there are little to no risks with the procedure itself,” advises Isley. “Parents only get one chance to collect newborn stem cells, and that is at birth.”

You can’t delay cord clamping.

Delayed cord clamping allows more cord blood to flow to the baby. Isley recommends discussing your options with your healthcare provider, as no situation is alike, “and even if a mama wants to delay until there's no blood in the cord, then banking the cord tissue is an option,” she says.

Cord blood FAQs from expecting parents

How much does it cost to bank my baby’s cord blood?

CBR offers various pricing options for banking your baby’s cord blood, including annual, 18-year, or lifetime storage. Plans start at $49/month for initial fees.

“Families who pursue private cord blood banking typically pay an initial enrollment and processing fee, and thereafter an annual storage fee,” says Isley.

According to their site, CBR’s annual storage option is the most popular, at $1,750 with a $400 annual fee, and returning families are eligible for special pricing. 

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Can I bank cord blood if I have a high-risk pregnancy or complications during delivery?

While the health of the birthing person and baby is always a top priority, Isley advises that cord blood collection might not be feasible in certain situations, such as a complicated delivery.

To be prepared and informed, discuss potential scenarios and alternatives with your healthcare provider.

What happens to my baby's cord blood if I choose not to bank it?

In most hospitals, it will be disposed of along with the placenta and umbilical cord after delivery.

Does insurance cover banking cord blood?

Insurance usually doesn’t cover private cord blood banking, but public donation might be an option, depending on your hospital. 

“Private banks do require financial resources to protect your child's newborn stem cells,” says Isley. “Donation is free, but there's no guarantee this resource will be available to your family should you need it in the future.” 

Ultimately, the decision to bank cord blood is a personal one. Do your research, ask questions, and choose what feels right for your family.

To learn more about Cord Blood Registry (CBR), click here and use promo code SCPT for a 50% discount on your annual bundle, which includes processing, shipping, and the first year of storage.*

*Annual storage fees are charged after the first year. Fees are subject to change.

Blair Sharp is a freelance writer who lives in Minnesota with her husband and son. Her words have been published in various publications, including Parents, SheKnows, The Bump, and Insider. Find her writing daily on LinkedIn and check out her weekly newsletter, Hey Freelancer! Head to her website for more.