What is private ("family") cord blood banking?
For a fee, a family cord blood bank will collect, process, and cryopreserve (preserve through controlled freezing) your baby's stem-cell-rich umbilical cord blood for your family's future medical use.
Family cord blood banking is a way for families to save their baby's cord blood exclusively for their family. (In contrast, public cord blood banks don't store donations for a particular person. Instead, donations that make it onto the national registry are available to anyone, anywhere in the world, who needs a cord blood transplant.)
You can find descriptions of family cord blood banks around the world on the Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation website.
To find out more about how cord blood is collected and what it's used for, see our overview of cord blood banking.
© Benoît Rajau / Science Source
How much do family cord blood banks charge?
Family cord blood banks charge a first-year processing fee that ranges from about $1,000 to $2,000, plus annual storage costs of about $125 to $175. The banks offer payment plans, ranging from no-interest installments paid over a few months to longer-term financing with interest.
A new trend in the industry is for banks to offer a single all-inclusive price for 20 years of storage. In the long run this is less expensive than the traditional price model with annual storage fees.
The price may sound high, but the cost of processing and cryopreserving cord blood is considerable. Even public cord blood banks say that collecting, testing, processing, storing, and administering the collection of cord blood stem cells adds up to $1,500 to $2,500 per unit of cord blood.
Here are some things to keep in mind while weighing financial considerations:
- Some banks offer discounts if you prepay storage for longer periods, say five, 10, or 20 years.
- Some banks include medical courier shipping in their base price; with others, it's an add-on.
- Some banks offer discounts for families that bank more than one child's cord blood. It's also common to offer discounts to first responders and military families.
- The real price is almost always lower than the official price, because in any given week many of the banks are running some type of "limited time" discount or special offer. You can find coupons from family cord blood banks on BabyCenter.
Do you get what you pay for with family cord blood banks?
Yes, say the more expensive family banks, which argue that quality does not come cheap. No, say the cheaper ones, which argue they operate on smaller profit margins.
A less expensive bank may be cutting corners, such as not providing a well-insulated shipping box and courier transport to safeguard cell survival during transport. Or it may simply be spending less on marketing and passing along the savings to customers. So price isn't a safe determining factor.
Can I store my baby's cord blood for family use without paying?
Yes, if you have a family member who has a qualifying medical condition and may need therapy with the new baby's stem cells. Your family's finances don't influence your eligibility for these programs.
Several family cord blood banks run charity programs that offer free cord blood storage if an existing family member – either a parent or full sibling of the baby – has a condition that is treated with stem cell therapy. You'll be required to have your doctor fill out a medical history to be accepted into such a program. You can find more information about these programs on the "help for families in need" page of the Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation website.
At present there's no government funding for any of these programs, and they're offered at the discretion of the individual banks, as allowed by their own finances and their partnerships with charities that support patients with certain conditions. Because these programs are subject to change, it's important to look into them as early as possible in your pregnancy.
You're also eligible for free cord blood banking if your baby is diagnosed before birth with a condition that qualifies for participation in a clinical trial. For example, if your baby is diagnosed before birth with hydrocephalus or a congenital heart condition, there are programs that allow you to travel to a specialty hospital to deliver your baby. There, your baby's cord blood will be collected at birth, and the baby will receive appropriate care.
If you have questions about eligibility for these programs, email the Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation. The Foundation has a panel of expert medical advisors who will respond to inquiries about rare medical conditions and experimental therapies.
How long will my baby's cord blood stem cells last in storage?
Many parents wonder whether the stem cells in their baby's cord blood will still be viable by the time their child is grown. Scientists say that cryogenically preserved cells have no expiration date, and frozen cord blood should be viable for decades.
The scientist who first developed cord blood preservation methods has confirmed that some of the first specimens he stored 23-plus years ago are just as potent as fresh cord blood.
Is family cord blood banking more important for families with certain health conditions?
Any family might benefit from the decision to bank their baby's cord blood. But if your family has a history of leukemia, lymphomas, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, immune deficiency diseases, metabolic storage disorders, or other similar conditions, your family's odds of needing a stem cell transplant are higher than the general population's. If that's the case, you may find the idea of family cord blood storage especially reassuring.
For help assessing your risk of having a child with one of these diseases, ask your healthcare provider for a referral for genetic counseling.
The expectant mother's history of pregnancy complications is also a factor to consider in the decision to bank cord blood at a family bank. Any condition the mother has had that could lead to premature birth increases the chances that her baby will experience the various health problems faced by preemies. Current studies are treating a number of these problems by giving children their own cord blood.
For example, the incidence of cerebral palsy is much higher in preemies than in full-term babies, so moms at risk of premature birth may find family cord blood banking more worthwhile. (By the way, premature babies are so small that the amount of cord blood collected is insufficient to qualify for a public donation.)
Because of the potential benefits of cord blood banking for preemies and other babies with birth complications, a couple of hospitals have run pilot studies in which they offered free cord blood banking to parents of all babies who had low Apgar scores at birth.
If I bank one child's cord blood, will that be enough for the entire family?
If you decide on family storage and you plan to have more than one child, you'll want to consider banking each child's cord blood. The more cord blood units you have in storage, the more likely it is that you'll find a match for one of your children.
More cord blood resources
Find out more about cord blood and its potentially lifesaving qualities in our overview of cord blood banking, including a definition of cord blood and why parents decide to save it and store it. Also see our cord blood bank reviews and guide to choosing a private cord blood bank, how to donate cord blood, and more.
To hear what other parents are saying about cord blood banking decisions, visit the cord blood banking group in our Community.