Q: What is cord blood, and why would I consider banking it?

A: After a baby is born the umbilical cord is cut and remains attached to the placenta. Blood is still found inside the vessels within the cord, and can be extracted by a trained medical provider. It’s a painless way to get blood samples.

The samples obtained from cord blood contain hematopoietic stem cells, which treat a variety of blood disorders and can cure blood cancers like leukemia. There are more than 80 known diseases that can benefit from cord blood stem cells, and more are being studied.

Cord blood banking is painless and saves lives, so you should have your cord blood collected and banked, using either a public or private option.

Public Cord Blood Banking

When you donate to a public bank, you are giving the blood to a large pool provided by many donors. The donation is anonymous, and no one will know which sample came from your umbilical cord. The benefits of using a public bank are substantial, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it. Donations are used not only for medical therapies, but also for research to further our understanding of the power of these stem cells, so there is a high chance the sample will be used. If you are thinking of donating, ask your obstetrician about it early in your pregnancy to learn if your hospital provides services for public banking, or you can check on the Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation website. National organizations such as Be the Match will let you mail in a sample, but you’ll need to remind the delivery staff after birth to collect the sample – a job better left to a delivery partner than an exhausted mother!

Private or Family Cord Blood Banking

When you pay for storage of your cord blood, you have access to it for personal use. This might be helpful if there is a disease that runs in your family that can benefit from cord blood. But remember that cord blood does not help all genetic diseases, and sometimes there aren’t enough stem cells in a sample to provide therapies – so what you bank may not prove useful. Discuss this with your obstetrician. To make sure the bank you choose has storage procedures that are up to code, check for accreditation by the American Association of Blood Bank. It’s smart to ask a bank whether it has ever had to use its blood samples for any medical therapies to get a sense of its storage success rates.

Whether you choose a public donation or private storage, banking cord blood is something you should do with every pregnancy.

Joanna Parga-Belinkie, M.D., is a neonatologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a medical podcaster and co-creator of Baby Doctor Mamas.