Donating your cord blood is a noble and lifesaving decision. It can be banked and later donated to someone who needs it and can treat patients with various cancers and other conditions.
However, it is natural to have concerns or be confused about the process. Expectant parents have questions about how it works, its safety for you and your baby, and the difference between placing the cord blood in a public bank or a private one.
Here’s what you need to know about donating cord blood eligibility.
Who Can Donate
You need to know some eligibility requirements if you’re considering donating cord blood.
You must be at least 18 years old in most cases. However, some state cord banks permit women under 18 to donate cord blood.
You must meet the following health requirements to be eligible for cord blood donation:
- You’ve never been diagnosed with aplastic anemia, elliptocytosis, hereditary spherocytosis, hypogammaglobulinemia or polycythemia.
- You have never been exposed to or diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, hepatitis B or C, tuberculosis or the West Nile virus.
- You haven’t needed a red blood cell or transfusion support treatment in the past year.
- You’ve never had chemotherapy or taken CellCept, cyclosporine, etanercept, infliximab, interferon, Imuran, methotrexate, 6-mercaptopurine, Remicade or tacrolimus.
- You haven’t been diagnosed with syphilis in the past year.
- You’ve never been around someone who received the smallpox vaccine during your pregnancy.
- No one related to your baby has ever had any cancer or leukemia.
- Your baby has no fetal abnormalities.
Your delivery hospital must be registered with a cord blood bank to be able to donate.
There are a few other donation requirements:
- You cannot be a blood relative of the baby’s father.
- You haven’t had a non-sterile tattoo or piercing in the past year.
- You have never used a needle to administer a drug not prescribed by a doctor.
- You’re only expecting one baby, as the risk of cord blood mixing occurs for multiples.
These requirements are in place to ensure the health of you, your baby and the potential recipient.
How It’s Collected
Cord blood is collected minutes after your baby is born. Once they clamp the cord, your OB-GYN will take a needle and extract the blood from it. It will go into a bag and be sent to a cord bank for storage.
This process does not hurt the baby and does not mean delayed cord clamping can’t occur. However, postponing for more than two minutes decreases the likelihood that the blood can be donated.
The hospital will test the blood to see if there are enough stem cells for a possible donation. Only 15%-25% of cord blood collected is eligible, which is not a reflection of your or your baby’s health.
Where It’s Stored
Once cord blood is donated, it is transported to a cord bank for storage. Cord banks can keep it for donation or bank it for your family’s possible future treatments.
Cord banks must be chosen carefully, as incorrect processing could result in your family being unable to donate again and the collected blood going to waste.
If your delivery hospital is affiliated with a cord bank, they will share that information and discuss the processes followed to ensure a successful donation experience.
The cord blood will be wrapped and cryopreserved in liquid nitrogen until needed.
Private or Public Donation
Private donation is when the blood is preserved for personal use if a family member needs it later. Public donations are available to anyone who’s a match. However, this doesn’t mean your information is shared. The bank will keep things private unless you agree otherwise.
Public cord blood donation also will not put you or your baby on the stem cell donor registry for future donation unless you consent to it.
Cord Blood Uses
Doctors can use the hematopoietic stem cells in your cord blood to help a matched recipient rebuild their blood and immune system after facing an untreatable disease or condition. The donation could be lifesaving for the recipient if successful.
Diseases treated with cord blood include:
- Phagocyte disorders
- DiGeorge syndrome
- Leukocyte adhesion deficiency
- Multiple myeloma
- Hunter syndrome
- Sanfilippo syndrome
- Krabbe disease
The hospital will ask for consent for your health testing and the donation. They will take blood samples to ensure you and your baby are eligible.
Other Ways to Help
If you choose to donate your cord blood, you are making a noble decision that will potentially save a life. However, not everyone is eligible or feels comfortable doing this.
If you cannot donate cord blood, you can still help the cause by spreading the word or giving to a charity promoting awareness or research into stem cell transplantation and treatments.
Talk to your doctor about potential donation and whether it’s right for you.