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When you’re pregnant, especially for the first time, you have to make a lot of decisions. Will coffee remain a part of your life? Where are you going to give birth? What are you going to name the baby? What values will you teach him? Do you really need a baby spa bathtub?
Before my first daughter arrived, an instructor at a birth class threw me a curveball: Was I planning on banking my baby’s umbilical cord blood?
For much of pregnancy, the umbilical cord is the lifeline of a fetus, tethering it to the placenta. Snaking through the nearly 2-feet-long cord, there’s a vein ferrying nutrients and oxygen from mom’s blood (via the placenta), plus two arteries carrying oxygen- and nutrient-depleted blood from the fetus back to mom. Because mother’s blood and fetal blood don’t actually mix much, the blood in the placenta and umbilical cord at birth belongs mainly to the fetus.
That fetal blood holds all sorts of interesting — and potentially therapeutic — cells and molecules. This realization has, in some cases, changed the way the umbilical cord and placenta are handled during birth. Instead of tossing it aside, some doctors, scientists and parents are choosing to bank this fetal blood — harvesting it from the baby’s umbilical cord and placenta, freezing it and storing it away for later.
Proponents of cord blood banking are convinced that instead of being medical waste, the fetal cells within are biological gold. In this post, and the two that follow, I’ll take a look at the evidence for those claims, and sort through some of the questions that arise as parents consider whether to bank their baby’s cord blood.
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