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  5. Donating Umbilical Cord Blood to a Public Bank

Donating Umbilical Cord Blood to a Public Bank

Your decision to donate umbilical cord blood, which is full of blood-forming cells, may potentially save the life of someone who has a life-threatening disease.

Donating cord blood to a public cord blood bank involves talking with your doctor or midwife about your decision to donate and then calling a cord blood bank (if donation can be done at your hospital). Upon arriving at the hospital, tell the labor and delivery nurse that you are donating umbilical cord blood.

After your baby is born, the umbilical cord and placenta are usually thrown away. Because you are choosing to donate, the blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta will be collected and tested. Cord blood that meets standards for transplant will be stored at the public cord blood bank until needed by a patient. (It is not saved for your family.)

By donating umbilical cord blood, you may be helping someone who needs a transplant.

Approximately 3 months before your baby is due (between your 28th and 34th week of pregnancy)

  1. Talk with your doctor or midwife about your decision to donate umbilical cord blood.
  2. Find out if your hospital collects cord blood for public donation and save the phone number of the public cord blood bank.

Participating Hospitals

Cord blood donation doesn’t cost anything for parents. Public cord blood banks pay for everything which includes the collection, testing, and storing of umbilical cord blood. This means that cord blood donation is not possible in every hospital.

If a public cord blood bank is not collecting in your area, perhaps there is another way you can help.

Contact the public cord blood bank that works with your hospital (see above). Although each cord blood bank has its own instructions, they often include asking you to:

  • See if you meet basic guidelines for cord blood donation. These questions are similar to those asked of blood donors. You can usually donate if you are:
    • Healthy
    • Pregnant with one baby (rather than two or more)
  • Finish forms about the health history of you and your family. This information is important. It means that your blood is free from diseases that can be given to another person.

Medical staff at the public cord blood bank will check to see if you can donate. If you have had a disease that can be given to another person through blood-forming cells, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV (the AIDS virus), you will likely not be able to donate. However, other medical reasons may still allow you to donate, for example, hepatitis A or diabetes only during your pregnancy (gestational diabetes). The staff at the public cord blood bank will tell you.

  • Tell your type of expected delivery. Most public cord blood banks collect donations after a vaginal or C-section delivery.
  • Sign a consent form to donate. This consent form says that the donated cord blood may be used by any patient needing a transplant. If the cord blood cannot be used for transplantation, it may be used in research studies or thrown away. These studies help future patients have a more successful transplant.

Keep a copy of the consent form in case you need to call the cord blood bank.

Each cord blood bank has different directions for returning the consent form. Some banks may ask you to mail the consent form along with the health history forms or to bring the original consent form with you to the hospital. Other banks may have you finish the form at the hospital. Follow the directions from your public cord blood bank.

While you are in the hospital

  • When you get to the hospital, tell the nurse that you are donating umbilical cord blood.
  • While you are giving birth, everyone will be focused on you and your baby.
  • After your baby is born: 
    • The umbilical cord is clamped.
    • Blood from the umbilical cord and placenta is put into a sterile bag. (The blood is put into the bag either before or after the placenta is delivered, depending upon the procedure of the cord blood bank.)
    • The collected blood, called a cord blood unit, is given a special number and stored temporarily. (The cord blood unit is between one-third to a little over one-half cup or 90–150 cc.)
  • Usually, the day after your baby is born, you will be asked for a sample of your blood to be tested for infectious diseases. This blood is taken from you only, not your baby.
  • Shortly after your baby's birth, the cord blood unit is sent to the public cord blood bank.

What happens at the cord blood bank

After the cord blood unit arrives at the cord blood bank, it is:

  • Checked to make sure it has enough blood-forming cells for a transplant. (If there are too few cells, the cord blood unit may be used for research to improve the transplant process for future patients or to investigate new therapies using cord blood or discarded.)
  • Checked to be sure it is free from contamination.
  • Tissue typed and listed on the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the NMDPSM. (The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. When a patient needs a transplant, the registry is searched to find a marrow donor or cord blood unit.)
  • Frozen in a liquid nitrogen freezer and stored, so if the unit is selected as a match for a patient needing a transplant, it will be available.

Protecting your privacy after you have donated

You and your baby's personal information are always kept private by the public cord blood bank. The cord blood unit is given a number at the hospital, and this is how it is listed on the registry and at the public cord blood bank.

Thank you for considering this generous gift

Taking time to consider helping another person when you are already busy planning for the birth of your child is greatly appreciated. A gift of cord blood may someday give someone a second chance at life.

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