Donating Cord Blood
Mothers and families can donate blood from their child’s umbilical cord, which contains valuable stem cells used in the treatment of over 80 diseases. There are over half a million donated cord blood units around the world, with thousands more added every year.
How does donating cord blood work?
There’s a network of public cord blood banks in the United States that can take your donation. Most public banks are nonprofit organizations, and all public cord blood banks must meet stringent quality standards.
If a mother meets eligibility requirements, and her baby’s cord blood is determined to be suitable for transplant, it’s stored in a public cord blood bank, and the cord blood unit is listed on the Be the Match registry. (Most blood found not suitable for transplant is used for further research.)
Be the Match is a nonprofit organization that supports public cord blood banks’ efforts to encourage donations. It maintains the largest public listing of donated cord blood available for transplantation in the United States. The organization has facilitated more than 7,000 unrelated cord blood transplants since the year 2000.
Once donated cord blood is listed on the Be the Match registry, doctors can access it to treat patients who need stem cell transplants. Public cord blood banks keep the names of both mothers and babies confidential to protect the privacy of families.
In a report to the HRSA Advisory Council, scientists estimated that the chances of a pediatric patient finding a cord blood donor in the existing Be the Match registry are over 90 percent for almost all ethnic groups.
More cord blood donations are desperately needed to cover the transplant needs of adults. Cord blood donations from newborns of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds are especially needed. Tissue types are inherited, so patients who need a stem cell transplant are more likely to find a matched cord blood unit from someone in their own race or ethnic group. (Read about some cord blood transplant success stories).
Basic requirements for donation
Donating cord blood can help families and researchers. If a mother qualifies, the umbilical cord processing and storage is free, and can protect a child from over 80 different diseases. In the next several years, researchers will find new ways to treat even more conditions.
Mothers must meet the following requirements to be eligible:
- No tattoos or piercings in the last 12 months
- Giving birth to a single child (no twins, etc)
- Has not been diagnosed with a cancer
- Tests negative for hepatitis and HIV
Since most banks require mothers to sign up for donation between the 28th and 34th week of pregnancy, families must decide to donate ahead of time. If you are considering a public bank for your child’s cord blood, contact the bank and make sure you still have time.
When a donor signs up with a public bank, the mother must pass a health screening and sign a consent form. After that, the bank processes the application, which makes last-minute donations impossible. However, there are a small number of banks that accept late donor requests.
How public banking donations work
Parents sign a consent form, giving the public bank permission to add their child’s cord blood to a database. This database will match transplant patients with a suitable donor. No information about the donor, or their family, is displayed online. The website used in America is Be The Match. They maintain a database of donations and banks across the country, while also working with foreign banks. Your child’s cord blood could save someone living anywhere in the world.
Before giving birth
Women typically sign up for cord blood banking between the 28th and 34th week of pregnancy. Some private banks will allow for early or late sign up, but most public storage facilities won’t accept any mother past her 34th week. While most banks don’t officially sign up mothers until a certain time, it’s never too early to research.
When you sign up to donate your child’s cord blood, you will need to:
- Make sure you meet a few basic guidelines for public banking. Your doctor will give you an advanced blood test after giving birth, but there are a few basic requirements you have to meet before signing up. The requirements are different for each bank, but you can see our basic list of public banking requirements here.
- Fill out medical history sheets. The bank will ask you and your doctor to fill out medical forms that cover your infant, adolescent, and adult health. This helps the bank understand your general medical health to see if your child’s cord blood is useable in treatment. Overall, public banks usually accept healthy mothers without a history of severe inherited conditions.
- Find a public bank that participates with your hospital. Public banks usually partner with specific hospitals, so you will usually only have one choice. If your hospital doesn’t partner with a public bank, or if you don’t like the facility they work with, several private banks offer a donation option, which means public banking may still be possible.
- Sign a consent form. While there is a chance of the donor family using their child’s cord blood, by signing the consent form, you’re giving the public bank rights to your child’s blood. They can use it as a treatment for any patient, unless your family needs the stem cells first.
You will also have to tell your bank about the type of birth you’re expecting. Cord blood collection usually ony work withs vaginal or C-section deliveries.
At the hospital
Once you arrive at the hospital, all you need to worry about is having a safe birth. There are a few minor things that you and your family must remember at the hospital, but your priority should be birth and spending time with your newborn.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while at the hospital:
- Let the birthing staff know you’re donating cord blood. They will either have a kit sent to them from the private bank, or have the necessary equipment on location. Your bank should have already spoken with your doctor and the birthing staff on proper cord blood collections procedures, but you want to make sure everyone there knows to collect the umbilical cord after birth.
- The cord is cut and clamped, just like normal. The mother doesn’t go through anything different during birth, and neither does her child. They will experience no additional pain or procedures before, during, or after birth.
- Within 24 hours of giving birth, your doctor will take a small blood sample. In most cases, the blood sample is sent to the bank along with your child’s cord blood. This helps the storage facility staff when checking the blood for diseases and contamination. Some hospitals may decide to test the mother’s blood for diseases themselves.
Speak with the public bank that works with your hospital about their cord blood collection procedures, since these can vary depending on the organization.
After your child is born
You can check the status of your child’s cord blood unit any time by contacting the public bank. In most cases, the parents won’t have much control over any donated stem cells, so you probably won’t hear much from the storage facility. They may keep you updated if your cells are being used in a patient or clinical trial, but this is up to the bank. By signing the consent form, you are giving the bank full rights to use your child’s cord blood in any patient or clinical trial available.
However, your child’s cord blood unit is still being used, even if you aren’t getting any updates. After donated stem cells reach a storage facility, they are put through several tests:
- First, the cells are checked to see if they can be used for a transplant. If there are too few cells, the cord blood unit may be used for research to improve the transplant process for future patients or to investigate new therapies using cord blood, or discarded.
- Your child’s cord blood will also be tested for contamination. Staff at the lab will test the unit, along with a blood sample from the mother, and check for any possible problems. Contamination may happen in the hospital room or during travel to the lab. If the cells are contaminated, they may still be used in a clinical trial.
- Then, the cord blood is listed on a national registry. Be The Match is the name of the U.S. registry. This organization also partners with international programs, which means your child’s stem cells could be used to treat a patient on the other side of the world.
- Finally, the healthy stem cells are placed into long-term cryogenic storage. Compared to other stem cell sources, cord blood units are available very quickly since a doctor can remove them from storage and send them to the transplant hospital within a few days.
Tissue is typed and listed on the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®. (The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. When a patient needs a transplant, the registry is searched to find a matching marrow donor or cord blood unit.) It’s frozen in a liquid nitrogen freezer and stored, so if the unit is selected as a match for a patient needing a transplant, it will be available.
General requirements for donation
Women thinking about donating their child’s cord blood to a public bank must pass certain eligibility requirements. While these vary from bank to bank, the following list shows general health guidelines for mothers wanting to donate.
- Must be 18 or older
- Must not be related to the child’s father by blood (first cousins, etc.)
- Must be in the 28th–34th week of pregnancy
- Have not had any piercings or tattoos with shared or non-sterile materials (ink, needles, etc.)
- Are not delivering your child in a hospital based in Puerto Rico or Alaska
- Does not have any fetal abnormalities
- Is a single birth (no twins, triplets, etc.)
You must not have:
- Anemia, hereditary spherocytosis, hereditary elliptocytosis, hypogammaglobulinemia, polycythemia
- Gone through a red blood cell or transfusion support
- Been exposed to hepatitis B or C, HIV or AIDS, West Nile, or Tuberculosis
- Used a needle to take a non-prescription drug in the last 12 months
- Developed syphilis in the last 12 months
- You, your child’s father, and any other children of yours have never had any type of cancer
- Been diagnosed with malaria in the past three years
- You haven’t had contact with a person with a smallpox vaccine during your pregnancy
- You have never been treated with chemotherapy
- You haven’t taken remicade, interferon, infliximab, etanercept, methotrexate, 6-mercaptopurine, imuran, cellcept, cyclosporine, or tacromilus