The umbilical cord provides your unborn baby with all the required nutrients to help ensure proper growth and develop while in the womb. After birth, your baby no longer needs the cord and it is disposed of as medical waste, unless you opt to donate it to a public cord blood bank. The cord is rich in blood-forming cells that can help patients with leukemia and other life-threatening conditions. The process to donate an umbilical cord is fairly easy, but does require advanced planning.
The decision to donate an umbilical cord should be made prior to the 34th week of your pregnancy because of the paperwork involved. Talk to your doctor or midwife about the decision and find out if your hospital will collect the donation. Most hospitals work with a specific public cord bank, and you will need to contact them to determine your eligibility. The cord bank will give you a consent form and a questionnaire about your health.
In order to donate an umbilical cord, you need to meet certain eligibility criteria. Typically, you must be at least 18 years of age, although some cord blood banks will allow women older than 16 to donate. Conditions that may make you ineligible to donate include diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases within the last 12 months, and certain types of cancer. Those with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), most types of cancer, a recent organ transplant, or Hepatitis B or C are not eligible.
The procedure to donate an umbilical cord on the day of your baby’s birth is noninvasive and does not interfere with labor or delivery. When you arrive at the hospital, inform the labor and delivery team that you are donating, and the team should take care of the rest. After delivery, the cord is clamped and its blood is collected into a sterile bag, given an identification number and stored until it can be picked up by the blood bank. The next day, a sample of the cord blood will be taken to test for infectious diseases, and if it is negative, it will be delivered to the public cord blood bank.
When you donate an umbilical cord, your name and your baby’s name remain confidential. The blood type is recorded in a database without any identifying information. Once the bank collects the umbilical cord, representatives there will determine if enough blood-forming cells are present in the cord to warrant storage. Approximately 50 percent of all donated cords are not stored due to lack of blood-forming cells or other issues.
Cord blood offers several key benefits to potential recipients. Unlike bone marrow transplants, cord blood transplants do not need to be a perfect match, which increases the chance of finding a suitable donor. The cord blood’s immune cells are also less likely to attack the recipient’s tissue or cause serious viral infections in the recipient. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you have additional questions about how to donate an umbilical cord.