The pamphlets are everywhere: at your doctor's office, at the maternity store, in your mailbox, in the magazines... all over the place. And a coupon for $500 off, sweet! Who doesn't love saving money?
The message is clear: pay a couple thousand dollars now to preserve your baby's cord blood so that when he is (inevitably) diagnosed with leukemia, you can snap your fingers, inject him with the cord blood that you so meticulously preserved, and voila! Cancer cured. Everyone's happy.
Choose not to save the cord blood and your kid will die because you were a cheapskate a$$hole who doesn't care about the wellbeing of her child.
Not surprisingly, the emotional pitch is working. The numbers of families privately banking cord blood has drastically increased since the early 2000's. And at $3,000-$4,000 a pop over the course of 18 years, it's BIG business $$$$$
I'm not trying to talk you OUT of doing it (per se), but I want to share some little known facts that I've recently learned after talking to experts and reading LOTS of research.
I am lucky enough to live in San Francisco, which is where a lot of this research takes place. I was able to interview people who personally work on these projects and are in the know, but a lot of my quotes came from this article from 2005 published in the SF Chronicle. [Yes, I know it's years old, but none of the salient facts have changed.]There are a lot of key points that the private banking companies DON'T tell you about. Let's call them "marketing omissions", shall we?
The blood from a sick child would probably not be used to treat that child.
Children who develop a disorder often are unable to use their own cord blood because the blood also contains the same genetic defect. In fact, nearly all of the transplants that have occurred to date using privately banked cord blood have gone to relatives with pre-existing conditions, not to the donors themselves.
Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, director of the pediatric blood and marrow transplant program at Duke University Medical Center, agrees: "in children with cancer, I would definitely not use a child's own cord blood because it was probably contaminated with the disease at birth."
Hmmm. They don't mention THAT in the brochures. Onward.
2. "There ain't enuff"
When they draw the cord blood from a newborn, it's really not a lot of blood.
The idea that "we don't have many applications for cord blood now, but in 20+ years, we might be able to fix your child's heart, cure his Alzheimer's, etc" is busted because there's probably not enough blood for an adult transfusion.
"Approximately 75 % of the units donated to public banks are discarded or used in research because they don't contain enough stem cells for transplants", says Mary Halet, manager of cord-blood operations for the Center for Cord Blood at the National Marrow Donor Program.
Dr. Kurtzberg agrees, "few cord-blood transplants have been given to adults because most units haven't contained enough stem cells to treat anyone weighing more than 90 pounds". It may not even be enough for a child.
The truth is that the majority of all cord blood stored in private banks may be unusable for this reason.
Oh that. Tee-hee.
3. Go Public or Go Home
For a full sibling, there is only a 25% chance of a perfect match. For a parent or other relative, it's even less likely. This is why public banking is important. In fact, from 2000 to 2004, more than 2,200 unrelated transplants were done nationwide from public donations.
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) encourages families to donate their newborn's cord blood, which is normally discarded at birth, to cord blood banks (if accessible in their area) for other individuals in need.
Find donation locations here (choose your state from the drop-down menu).
Ok, so does that mean you shouldn't do it? It's really up to you, but here are the arguments...
"The potential for use is very small right now but could be very great in the future," said Dr. Michael Trigg, who chairs Cryo-Cell's medical and scientific advisory board.
Okay, at least he's honest.
Also, you may be a better candidate if one of these two is true:
1. A known illness: When an immediate family member has a disease that requires a stem cell transplant, it would seem logical to privately bank your baby's cord blood as an extra weapon in your arsenal (will it "work"? who knows). You should definitely discuss this with the ill person's oncologist or hematologist.
2. You are a rare species: It's a known fact that ethnically diverse babies may have a harder time finding a public match than say, a bunch of whiteys. If you are an Irish/Inuit married to a Polynesian/Brazilian (for example), I'd suspect your babe's blood would be a better candidate for private banking than the average bear.
In response to the tremendous marketing surge from cord blood companies, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement,
Read also the position statement from ACOG.
"The AAP discourages storing cord blood at private banks for later personal or family use as a general "insurance policy"." Read the full statement here.
Other experts agree, "these banks prey on parents' fears of the unknown, and there's no scientific basis for a number of medical claims they make," says Bertram Lubin, MD, a blood specialist and president and director of medical research for Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, "most of the people in the hematology community think they're a bunch of snake-oil salesmen in these private companies." Ouch.
One mom told me, "I asked about 15 GYNs about it, and could not find one that advised it. In fact, one of them said to take the money and put it in the college fund. Ha!"
In summary, it's safe to say that it's not going to HURT to privately bank your baby's cord blood, but you need to understand what you are actually getting for your money. A fail-safe insurance policy? Most definitely not. You are getting the promise of a "maybe", at best.
Also, make sure you understand the motivations behind the people that are peddling the pamphlets; they're getting paid a lot of money in referral fees (et tu Motherhood??).
Again, the right answer is the one that you and your family feel good about (blah, blah, blah).
I'm done now.