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Give Life Twice: donating your baby's cord blood

Chances are, if you have given birth, are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy, you've heard of cord blood. I remember being pregnant with my first, and knowing friends who were debating private cord blood banking. But I had no idea there was another option - donating your baby's cord blood to a public bank. 

But what IS cord blood, and why is it so important?

So let's start with the very basics - the placenta and umbilical cord. As you may know, your baby is kept alive for ten months by a magical organ called the placenta. The placenta has several functions, and one of those is to supply the baby with nutrients and oxygen. Nutrient-rich blood from the mother goes through the placenta then into the umbilical cord attached. At the time of birth, almost 40% of your baby's blood volume continues to pump from the placenta and through the cord to your baby. If you were to touch the cord immediately after birth, you would still feel it pulsing. Cool, eh?

But some blood still remains in the cord, and that blood contains something called stem cells. Stem cells have been used to treat more than 80 disorders and diseases - you have most likely heard the success story out of our own Ottawa Hospital involving multiple sclerosis patients. Stem cells can be taken from adults too, but cord blood stem cells are easier to collect.

What's the difference between private banking and public banking?

So a "bank" is just a place where the cord blood gets stored. There are a number of private companies out there that bank your baby's blood for the family's personal use - perhaps for a family that has a particular genetic disorder or family history of disease. That blood is stored ONLY for that family's use, and you have to pay yearly to keep it stored. It's pricey!

Our public cord blood bank is managed by Canadian Blood Services, and the stem cells that are collected can be used by anyone who requires treatment with stem cells - provided that the blood is a proper match for that individual. In the past, Canada relied mainly on international donors at a hefty price tag. Growing our own national bank will mean that Canadians have better access to potential donors. 

Donating to a public bank costs you nothing, and it's possible that your baby's cord blood could potentially save a life someday. Check out this touching story:

You've convinced me; where do I sign up?

We are super lucky here in Ottawa to have a cord blood collection site at the The Ottawa Hospital's General and Civic campuses. Sadly, if you are giving birth at Montfort, Queensway-Carleton or any other hospital in the region, you are unable to donate (at this time). 

The most important thing to know is that you HAVE to arrive at the hospital with a signed consent form. Due to ethical issues, no one can get your permission if you're already contracting (because, well, labour pains make it hard for you to give informed consent.) So, if you are interested please talk to your healthcare provider and they will be able to hook you up with a form. Also, note that you have to be healthy, over 18 and not delivering multiples. For more info, head over to their website for an information kit.

What if I want to do delayed cord clamping?

Many hospitals continue to clamp and cut baby's cord immediately after birth, which means those babies are not getting about 40% of their blood volume - some babies have experienced anemia due to this issue. So many parents these days are requesting that care providers delay the cord clamping, at least until the cord has stopped pulsating.

The Ottawa Hospital has a 1 minute delayed cord clamping policy. It is possible that the cord would still be pulsing at this point, but it's also possible that all of the blood has moved through. Research has shown that the longer you delay, the less volume of blood there is to extract for the cord blood collection. But don't let that deter you, as there could still be enough stem cells in the collected blood. Talk to your care provider about the best time to clamp and cut.

Anything else I should know?

Even if your baby's cord blood gets collected, it's possible it can't be used. First of all, there has to be enough stem cells in the blood to make it worth storing. It's possible they won't be able to get a large enough volume. If your baby's cord blood has a good number of stem cells, you will hear from a nurse within 7 days following the birth. You will need to answer a more detailed health/lifestyle questionnaire at that point - sort of similar to what you might get if you were donating your own blood.

Also, given Canada's diverse population, we are in dire need of non-Caucasian cord blood. Patients are more likely to find a good match among donors from their own ethnic group, and right now, Caucasian cord blood makes up the majority of blood we have stored. The goal is to close that gap!

Did you donate your baby's cord blood? Why or why not?

*this post is NOT sponsored by Canadian Blood Services