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Four years ago, I banked my daughter's cord blood.
When I was pregnant, I saw a poster that read: "Saving your child's cord blood could save your child's life," in my obstetrician's office. An ad on my Instagram feed claimed, "the cost of storing cord blood stem cells is less than buying a cup of coffee everyday."
It was a no-brainer for me; I was sold.
But, cord blood banking turned out to be expensive — and it wasn't covered by my health insurance.
I paid exactly $2,724 upfront to harvest my daughter's cord blood stem cells at birth, and every year a $149 storage fee is automatically deducted from my bank account.
This is a typical cost for umbilical cord blood banking in Canada and the U.S.
While it's true the annual storage fee for this "biological insurance policy" is less than buying a cup of joe everyday, by the time my daughter turns 18, I will have forked over $5,400.
Is banking your baby's umbilical cord blood really worth the long term cost? "All families should consider banking cord blood stem cells," Dr. Christine Sterling, a board certified OB/GYN and spokesperson for Cord Blood Registry, told Insider. She banked cord blood for all of her children "because she was captivated by the security that banking umbilical cord stem cells can provide."
Chrissy Teigen, a patient of hers, did the same for all four of her children.
Here's what you need to know.
What are the benefits of storing umbilical cord blood?
Life-giving stem cells harvested from cord blood are currently being used to treat over 80 different diseases such as blood cancers, metabolic disorders, immune system disorders and red blood cell disorders.
"There is also a lot of exciting stem cell research that is currently ongoing. Ottawa is in fact a center of stem cell research," Dr. Amanda Black, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at The Ottawa Hospital, recently told Yahoo Canada. The Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research is spearheading many of these new clinical trials.
"Regenerative therapies — using cord blood stem cells — are being tested and may help treat some of the world's most devastating diseases, including spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Parkinson's, Muscular Dystrophy, and ALS," Dr. Black shared.
But, according to the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplant, the chance of your baby using their own banked cord blood is less than 0.04 per cent.
Dr. William Shearer, a pediatric immunologist who co-authored the AAP policy statement on cord blood banking, says this is because diseases treatable with cord blood are rare. Even when needed the child's cord blood would likely be unusable for their treatments because the stem cells would contain the same genetic defects.
"There are a lot of advertisements and incentives to have a child's cord blood banked on the idea that this will be some kind of biological insurance policy for them," he told CNBC. "That's totally unrealistic."
But, privately banking cord blood can be beneficial if you know there is a family history of one of the diseases currently treatable with cord blood.
I banked my daughter's stem cells because Hashimotos — a rare autoimmune disease that runs in my family — can potentially be cured with cutting-edge stem cell therapies being tested in clinical trials. While the chances of your baby using their own stem cells are low, they're likely to be an ideal match for yourself or other family members too.
How does cord blood banking work?
After signing a consent form and paying the initial fee, a collection kit was mailed to my home address. I was responsible for bringing the stem cell collection kit with me to the hospital, as well as notifying my OBGYN ahead of time that I was requesting cord blood and tissue collection at the time of delivery.
When your baby is delivered, the umbilical cord blood is clamped and the remaining blood is collected by your obstetrician with a needle. The collection process can be performed whether you have a normal delivery or a C-section like I did. It was completely pain free.
Some people worry cord blood banking might interfere with the ability to get the full benefits of delayed cord clamping, but Dr. Amanda Black says if planned, "delayed cord clamping can still be performed."
The umbilical cord is then put into a collection bag and both samples are mailed off to your cord blood banking company of choice. Once the collection kit reaches the lab, stem cells from your cord blood and tissue samples are purified, concentrated and cryogenically preserved before going into storage.
The cost of banking your baby's cord blood
Private cord blood banking companies typically charge an initial collection fee between $1,000 and $3,000 per birth. The storage fees are about $150 to $200 per year.
Health insurance doesn't cover the cost of privately banking, but some banks do offer financial help if you have immediate family members who would benefit from stem cell transplant.
March of Dimes estimates the odds of needing banked cord blood are only about 1 in 2,700. But, that doesn't mean this precious resource should go to waste. According to Black, "hundreds of Canadians wait for lifesaving stem cell transplant every year."
Can you donate cord blood in Canada?
Canadian Blood Services CBB, is a public bank that collects cord blood from designated hospitals across Ottawa, the Greater Toronto Area, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Health Canada encourages public cord blood banking because it is 30 times more likely to be used than privately banked cord blood.
"Donating to a public cord blood bank also increases the volume and diversity of available cord blood units which means it's easier to find a match for those who otherwise couldn't," explains Black. "The cord blood units collected at the four Canadian sites help to build a national inventory for patients within Canada as well as around the world."
Public cord blood donations are free and are made available for anyone who might need them for stem cell transplants, including scientists. A 2014 study found that 66-97 per cent of patients are able to find a suitable match from donated umbilical cord blood. The only downside is: you can't ask for your baby's cord blood back if you were to need it one day.
Has cord blood banking been worth the cost for me so far? No — but that's a good thing.
Dr. Sterling agreed.
"The reality is: I hope that I never have to use it, and I hope my kids never have to use it... I feel good when I pay my fee because that means no one in my family has needed it."