When I was pregnant with my son, I would get brochures upon brochures about banking his umbilical cord blood. Ultimately, I decided against storing his cord blood, if for nothing else because of time and circumstance. Still, I understand why umbilical cord blood banking is so appealing to many families.

The thing about umbilical cord blood is, it can potentially save lives. Your newborn's umbilical cord contains blood stem cells that can treat a number of blood, immune and metabolic conditions and other rare disorders. That's because stem cells can grow into any type of immune or blood cell that, in turn, can repair and replace tissue in the human body.

But, when it comes to umbilical cord banking, there's a lot of information you have to consider. Although a lot of research exists on the implications of umbilical cord blood, much more needs to be done to explore and understand stem cells' potential.

So, before you decide to bank your newborn's umbilical cord blood, keep these four tips in mind.

1. First, do your research on stem cells

How stem cells work is often misunderstood. Your baby's cord blood is unlikely to help if your child has a genetic disorder because their stems cells have the same genes. But, if the blood matches, banked cord blood can help siblings, especially if there is a known family medical history of conditions treatable by stem cells. So first make sure you know exactly why you want to bank your kid's umbilical cord blood before making an affirmative decision.

2. Understand the difference between public and private cord banking

Private banks are an appropriate option for families who want to store cord blood because there's a medical history that makes it likely a sibling or relative will need umbilical cord cells. Public cord blood banking is a good choice for those parents who want to donate stem cells for research or to treat other people.

Donating to a public bank is completely free, and also allows for direct donations—meaning you can reserve those cells for use by a specific person only. Private banking, on the other hand, can run you thousands of dollars up front, plus an annual storage fee of upwards of $300.

3. Always investigate the company you choose

Public and private cord blood banks both have their advantages and disadvantages, but the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends families consider donating to a public bank. In a 2017 policy statement, the AAP explains that public blood banks are more frequently used, are better regulated when it comes to quality control, are cost-free and available to anyone.

Private for-profit cord banks, on the other hand, may not have as much oversight and carry more financial risks, the AAP states. Additionally, health care providers advising parents on choosing a private bank may not disclose any financial interests they have with said bank. So, whether it's a private or public cord bank, you should always conduct independent research to make sure you have as much unbiased information on your choices as possible.

4. Remember, you shouldn't feel bad if it's something you can't do

There are many reasons why you're unable to bank your newborn's umbilical cord blood. Maybe you can't find a public cord bank. Or you can't afford the fees associated with private cord banking. Whatever the reason, don't feel guilty about not storing cord blood.

Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, a renowned expert in cord blood research, tells ScienceNews, "I think it's important for those parents, as well as all parents, to know this has not been proven as a therapy yet for anything other than transplant. And for transplant, you generally want a donor, not your own."

There's a lot for parents to weigh when choosing whether or not to bank an infant's umbilical cord blood. It may be an option some parents want to explore, but if you don't, that's okay too. It's a complicated decision, and is entirely your choice.

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