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What Is Cord Blood, and Why Does It Matter?

What is cord blood?

A stock a newborn baby with light brown skin

Cord blood is the blood that stays behind in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born.

Cord blood contains stem cells that can become blood cells. Because of this property, cord blood stem cells are valued for their regenerative properties in treating certain illnesses. Stem cells from cord blood may be better-preserved than adult stem cells because they have less of a chance to be exposed to environmental risk factors.

The FDA considers cord blood a “biological product” and regulates the use of cord blood stem cells.

“90% of cord blood stem cells are discarded as medical waste each year in the U.S.” -Stamford Health

Why cord blood matters

July is Cord Blood Awareness Month, an awareness holiday intended to help mothers and families to understand how cord blood stem cells can positively impact their baby’s future or even save the life of a stranger.

The FDA has approved the use of cord blood stem cells in hematopoietic stem cell transplants (HSCT). Treatments featuring cord blood stem cells can help fight certain blood disorders and blood cancers. They can also help patients fighting cancer: chemotherapy may target both cancer cells and healthy, blood-forming cells, so cord blood stem cells assist with regrowth and replenishment.

Transplants can be allogeneic (using cells from a matching donor, such as a sibling or stranger), or they can be autologous (using your own cells).

What is cord blood banking?

Cord blood can be removed without harm to a mother or her child. Cord blood can be frozen and stored for years through cryopreservation. There are two cord blood banking options.

  • Private Bank: Store cord blood for use by your child or a relative in the future. Pay a fee to a private company for collection and storage.
  • Public Bank: Donate cord blood for use by any patient who requires FDA-approved stem cell treatment. Because it can be challenging to find a match in such cases, this option is encouraged particularly for patients who identify as part of an ethnic minority. Donating is free.

Keep in mind that private bank cord blood is regulated by the FDA as a drug as well as a biological product. Certain screenings and tests may apply.


How to save lives with cord blood

If you are interested in cord blood banking, whether to potentially change a stranger’s life or to give your child a fighting chance against a blood-related illness, explore your options while you are pregnant. Take time to weigh your choices, and discuss your questions with your hospital or health care provider.

Your medical team can guide you to local places to bank or donate cord blood. You can also consult an FDA database of cord blood centers:

Written by Emily Progin