The blood left in the umbilical cord of newborn babies after birth is sometimes collected and used to treat specific diseases. If you are an expectant parent, you might consider banking cord blood for public donation or family use. This safe procedure could mean better health for someone with a chronic or terminal disease.
What makes cord blood special?
Cord blood is rich in stem cells. These cells help the growth and repair of body tissue. In the body, they can turn into blood cells, bones, cartilage and other tissue. Stem cells are used in many different types of medical treatment and also in medical research.
Why consider banking your baby's cord blood?
You might donate your baby's cord blood because it helps other people in Australia and throughout the world. Stem cells from cord blood can be used to treat people with diseases such as:
- leukaemia and lymphoma
- aplastic anaemia, thalassaemia and other blood disorders
- autoimmune deficiencies
In some cases, the treatment is life-saving.
Who gets the cord blood I've banked?
It depends. You can make a public donation, where the cord blood is stored then used to treat someone anonymously. You'll never find out who this person is, and they won't know who you are. But you'll be helping them out, in the same way an organ donor does. This is done free of charge, and you receive no payment.
You can donate cord blood to a family member with a medical condition that responds to stem cell treatment - you will need to get the treating doctor's approval for this free service.
You can also store the cord blood in a private cord blood bank, so it can be used by your family if it is ever needed. Private cord blood banking will involve fees.
You need to make arrangements for cord blood banking before the birth. Talk to your obstetrician or midwife for further information.
What do I need to do?
To donate cord blood, you need to give birth in a participating collection hospital and make arrangements before admission. Banking cord blood will make no difference to your plans of how you’d like to have your baby.
You will need to complete a health and travel history, and give informed consent. This is a good time to ask questions. You'll have a blood sample is taken to check for infectious diseases. There are other strict health and lifestyle criteria that you'll need to meet.
How is cord blood collected and stored?
After your baby is born, and after the umbilical cord is cut, a trained staff member draws blood from the cord. This won't hurt you or your baby.
A small amount of the blood is kept aside for testing for viruses and other infections. The rest of the blood is frozen and stored in a cord blood banks.
Cord blood for public use is stored by 3 public cord blood banks:
- Sydney Cord Blood Bank (Sydney) 02 9382 0371
- Queensland Cord Blood Bank (Brisbane) 07 3163 2665
- BMDI Cord Blood Bank (Melbourne) 03 9345 5834
Cord blood for private use is managed by private companies that charge fees. If you're considering using a private service, ask about all the fees involved. Further information can be found online or through your doctor.
What happens after the blood is collected?
The cord blood will be assessed to see if it is suitable for treatment. If not, it can be used for research purposes, but only if you've given consent.
You can change your mind and withdraw consent for up to 30 days after the birth.
When your baby is 6 months old, you and your baby will be contacted to have a free health check. If that is all clear, then the blood can be used.
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Last reviewed: April 2020