Public Cord Blood Banking: What You Need to Know

If you’re thinking about banking your baby’s cord blood stem cells, one question you’ve probably considered is whether to choose a private or public cord blood bank. As with any major decision in your life, it pays to do your research so you can make the best choice for your family about the future of your baby’s cord blood.

Here are 9 things you need to know about public cord blood banking:

1. The first cord blood transplant was performed more than 25 years ago.
In 1988, the first cord blood transplant was performed on a 5-year-old boy with Fanconi anemia, a rare blood disorder, using his sister’s donated cord blood.1

2. There are 20 public cord blood banks in North America.2
Generally speaking, public cord blood banks collect, process and store your donated cord blood for free. The cord blood you donate to a public bank may be used for transplants or for research purposes, so you may not be able to access your own cord blood. View a list of public cord blood banks in North America.

For families who wish to donate cord blood to a public bank, the biggest hurdle may be finding a nearby hospital that collects cord blood for donation.  Most public banks only work with select hospitals in their community. In the U.S., there are only about 200 hospitals that collect cord blood donations. Find out if there is a donation hospital near you.

3. It costs nothing to donate cord blood.

There is no cost associated with public cord blood banking, but you do give up your rights to your baby’s stem cells at the time of donation. The public cord blood bank owns the donation. If your child or another family member needs a transplant in the future, there is no guarantee you would have access to your baby’s cord blood.

4. If you choose to donate cord blood, you need to plan ahead.
Most public cord blood banks require the mother to register for donation between the 28th and 34th week of pregnancy.3

5. All donated cord blood is screened and tested.
All public cord blood banks require that every mother undergoes medical eligibility screening and all cord blood is tested for infectious diseases and contamination.

6. Not all donations to public cord blood banks are stored.
Only 25-50% of donations to public cord blood banks end up being stored.4 Typically, public cord blood banks only store donations that meet the size threshold for transplant use. That means most public cord blood banks will only keep cord blood collections that are at least 3 ounces.2

7. Some public cord blood banks allow you to mail in your cord blood.

If you are interested in donating cord blood to a public bank and do not have access to a hospital that accepts cord blood donations, you can contact a lab that offers a mail-in program. After you’ve passed the lab’s eligibility screening process, they’ll send you a kit that you can use to package and mail in your cord blood.2

8. Cord blood donations may be listed on a national registry.

Once a cord blood donation has been saved, it may be listed on a national registry that can be searched to find a match for a transplant patient. The donation could be released to any recipient who is compatible.

9. In some cases, you can access donated cord blood for your baby’s sibling.
Some public banks offer sibling-directed donation programs where you can donate cord blood and designate it for use by your baby’s full sibling if that sibling has been diagnosed with a disease for which a cord blood transplant is considered standard treatment.

10. Donating cord blood is particularly important for minorities.
People who are in need of a transplant are more likely to find a match from a donor of the same ethnic descent. There are fewer racial minorities in the national registries, so finding a match can be more difficult.5