This post is sponsored by ViaCord. All thoughts, experiences, opinions, and content are my own.
During pregnancy, we were faced with a choice: to bank our baby's cord blood or not to. Cord blood banking has been rising in popularity but a lot of people are still skeptical. I know I've gotten comments before when I've mentioned we were banking the cord blood from skeptics. They usually believe delayed cord clamping is the only option. And I agree, there are loads of benefits to delayed cord clamping – where the baby gets most, if not all, the blood in the umbilical cord. With that said, banking cord blood has tons of benefits too which I'll talk about here, and it's possible to do a hybrid (which we did) where you both delay cord clamping, and still collect enough to be banked (more on that below)!
So let's chat about what cord blood banking is, and why we chose to do it:
What is cord blood banking?
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the umbilical cord cord after birth. The blood is rich with stem cells which contribute to developing literally everything in our bodies from our tissues, to our organs, to all the different systems that allow us to operate and function daily. When you bank cord blood, you choose to save that blood in the umbilical cord, and have it stored by a cord blood bank like ViaCord. Each year you pay a small annual fee to keep the blood securely stored.
Why would you bank the baby's cord blood?
It's sort of an insurance policy. You hope you never have to use it, but are grateful it's there if you do need it. Cord blood stem cells can be used for a ton of things like treating certain diseases in either the baby his/herself, or a parent, or sibling, or even grandparent. The exact use of the cord blood varies depending on what is happening.
Common uses for cord blood:
It's used for treatment in nearly 80 diseases today (read more here) including cancers, blood and autoimmune disorders and more. You can develop the stem cells into specialized cells like nerve or blood cells. You can use the stem cells to repair damaged and diseased cells and tissue when transplanted. The stem cells can also be regenerated to create even more stem cells. The research also looks promising for treating autism (which now 1 in 59 children are being diagnosed with).
Who uses the cord blood?
Depending on what is going on with your baby, he or she may be able to use it. There is a common misconception that if you bank your baby's cord blood, she'll be able to use it for herself no matter what the disease or situation; which isn't always the case. Some things the baby would be able to use it for herself, but more likely, the cord blood will be able to treat siblings, parents, and other immediate family members like grandparents.
Why we chose to bank our baby's cord blood:
We hope and pray that Reagan will never need it, nor will any future siblings. However, we know we have one potential use for it. E was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis about a decade ago. It's a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that leads to degeneration of the joints and can damage a bunch of the body's tissues. The research on treating psoriatic arthritis with stem cells is still pretty early (I mean, all the research for everything to do with stem cells is still fairly early since it's only been around for about 25 years) – but it's very promising (read here).
I've watched E struggle with the pain for years. Periods where he couldn't make a fist with his hand; and periods where he does amazing. He gives himself regular shots to manage it, but the shots just slow down the degeneration. They don't stop it. I want him to live a long healthy active life where he plays with our kids and can do anything he wants. A life where he can show up and be the dad he wants to be without being in pain. If there's even a chance that the stem cells from the cord blood can work, we are absolutely taking it.
Stem Cell Regeneration
The beautiful thing with banking cord blood today too, is that they are actually able to clone and replicate it. Meaning we don't need to worry about using all the cord blood we collected in treating E. The way this area of science is developing is beyond fascinating. I love banking with ViaCord because the way they do the collection is with their VC 5X storage bags. Basically it divides the stem cells into 5 compartments, with a little sample area; so you can use the stem cells as needed.
By storing the stem cells like this, it also maximizes the value of the cord blood stem cells collected as we move more into regenerative medicine. Meaning you can use one of the bags to regenerate into more stem cells, and still have the other bags when medically needed. So we can test first to see if it works for E's treatment before having to use it all. If it does work, and we want more units, we can get it cloned to create more. You can read more about how they store cord blood stem cells here. Plus, the way this area of science is developing, we could try to use it for E tomorrow and it may not work, but they could discover something new in 10 years and it would work! You just never know and we'd prefer to have the option than not.
Furthermore, I watched my nephew fight his way through cancer as a baby. I know how tough that was on everyone, and even as he grew older and became a kid, he had fears about going to the doctor. We all want to think these things will never happen to us, but witnessing it in two people I love on both ends of the spectrum (a baby and an adult), made the decision to bank cord blood a no brainer.
How can you get the benefits of both delayed cord clamping and banking cord blood?
Choose a provider who is comfortable with it and who you trust first and foremost! Since at the end of the day it's going to be their judgement of how long to let the cord blood continue flowing to baby, and when to clamp and collect for cord banking. For example, when Reagan came out, my provider decided to delay clamping even longer than she normally would for cord blood collection because something had happened where she felt the baby needed more of the blood in that moment.
She was still able to collect enough for storage though. So again, choose a provider who you trust to make the best decision that aligns with your birth plan and is experienced with it really helps. Your provider will collect the cord blood, and then it goes into the picture box below, where you call the number and a courier picks it up from the hospital. If your provider isn't able to collect enough cord blood for whatever reason, you'll get a message from ViaCord and won't be charged the fee.
How to choose who to bank your cord blood with?
When you're pregnant you'll get a lot of emails and promos about cord blood banking. We went with ViaCord because they are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB). Since it's a long term relationship, we also wanted to go with an established company. You know, one who isn't going to shut their doors in 10 years and leave you scrambling with what to do. ViaCord has been around for over 25 years and is a part of a global healthcare company, PerkinElmer which has been around for over 90 years! ViaCord has banked over 400,000 cord blood units in their state-of-the-art-lab which is FDA registered. More than 400 families have used their cord blood and ViaCord has the highest transplant success rate of any private bank at 88% at 1 year. They operate 24/7 every day of the year. We really just felt totally confident throughout the entire process.
How cord blood banking works with ViaCord:
Once you enroll ViaCord sends you a collection kit with instructions. You fill out the paperwork inside, pack the kit in your hospital bag to bring it with your for delivery. Make sure your provider and your birth team knows where the kit and your plan when you arrive for delivery. The collection takes only about 5 minutes. Afterwards you call them and they send a medical courier to pick it up and transport the kit to their lab. Within a couple of days you get a notification about whether or not enough was collected and will be able to be stored. You don't get billed until after all of this.
What about a second kid?
We plan to have a second kid and plan to bank their cord blood as well! If – heaven forbid – baby R gets sick and we can't use her own blood as a match, her siblings blood has a higher likelihood it'll be able to be used.