Cord-blood banking: Is it really worth your while?

Are the benefits of banking your baby's stem-cell-rich umbilical-cord blood enough reason to overlook the limitations and costly fees of this practice?

cord-blood banking
Photo: iStockphoto

The argument for storing your baby’s umbilical-cord blood is pretty persuasive. Bank stem-cell-rich blood and you’ll be better prepared to help your child battle serious ailments like cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury or tumours.

It’s a powerful sales pitch, and one that’s compelled Canadian parents to spend thousands of dollars to store cord blood in private clinics. But The Globe and Mail isn’t convinced parents know the full story when it comes to cord blood banks.

“I don’t know if the families are walking away with an entirely honest picture of what they’re buying,” John Doyle, former head of blood and marrow transplants at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, tells The Globe and Mail. “I don’t think that parents truthfully understand the limits.”

Read more: Umbilical cord care>

And there are limits.

In 2005, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada spoke out against private cord-blood banking, citing “limited indications and lack of scientific evidence to support the practice.” Doctors also caution that the amount of cord blood saved is often only enough to treat a child so this poses problems should your little one need treatment later on in life. And, as The Globe and Mail points out, if a child needs a stem-cell transplant “to treat metabolic or blood disorders, doctors are unlikely to use that child’s own cells’ donor—cells can spark the necessary immune response to keep disease at bay.”

As Canada moves towards launching a national public registry for umbilical-cord blood (currently public banks are in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec, though all are facing funding issues), should we be taking a harder look at the actual benefits of banking cord-blood for our family? Is this money well spent (private clinic start-up fees are around $1,000, with annual payments between $100-$150)? Or should we be spending this money to safeguard for our children’s future in other ways, like a RESP?

Despite the doubts surrounding banking cord-blood, I still find it compelling. The Cord Blood Bank of Canada maintains “stem cell therapy may provide your baby, a sibling, or a young family member the best chance to beat cancer.”

As someone who had cervical cancer, the fees associated with cord-blood banks may be worth it if only to buy peace of mind. All those dreaded “what ifs?” become a lot more plausible after you’ve gone through cancer. So despite the limitations of the practice, I completely understand why parents choose to bank their baby’s cord blood. Like life insurance, this is probably the type of thing you’ll pay into for years with no need to use, but knowing it’s there provides some security—and that is priceless.

Would you use a cord-blood bank? Do you think the benefits outweigh the limitations of the practice?

Originally published in May 2013.

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