Why are parents paying thousands to freeze their babies' umbilical cords?

Parents are opting to freeze the blood from their baby's umbilical cord [Photo: Getty]
Parents are opting to freeze the blood from their baby's umbilical cord [Photo: Getty]

More and more parents are paying to freeze parts of their baby's umbilical cord in case of illness later in life, figures have revealed.

Cord blood and tissue is rich in stem cells, which is increasingly being used to treat genetic diseases.

This has lead to a spike in the number of parents paying thousands to store their baby’s umbilical cord blood with private companies.

Figures from the regulator, the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that 27,028 blood and tissue units were banked privately in 2018 compared with 16,965 units in 2014.

There was also an increase in the number of cord blood units processed, going from 10,676 in 2014 to 15,078 in 2018.

According to the HTA the fees set by private cord blood banks can vary, though they estimate it can cost in the region of £2,000 for 20 years of storage.

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The US has witnessed similar growth. In 2016, the umbilical cord blood banking market was valued around worth US$3,124.4 million, but this figure is expected to reach around US$8,178.1 million by the end of 2025.

What is cord blood banking?

According to the NHS, cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord following the birth of your baby.

“It is rich in blood stem cells, similar to those found in bone marrow, and these can be used to treat many different cancers, immune deficiencies and genetic disorders,” the site explains.

Blood-producing stem cells (called haematopoietic stem cells) are present in cord blood.

“These cells are what we call 'unspecialised', which means that they have the ability to develop into those parts of the blood that the patient's body requires; whether red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets,” the site continues.

Following the birth of a baby, the placenta is usually thrown away along with the cord blood that is in it, but experts are discovering more diseases and conditions that could potentially be treated with stem cells found within cord blood.

As mentioned above, the process can cost around £2,000. The HTA recommend asking for a breakdown of the charges to find out what is included.

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What's the difference between private and public cord blood banking? [Photo: Getty]
What's the difference between private and public cord blood banking? [Photo: Getty]

What’s the difference between private and public blood banking?

While private banks store blood units solely for use by the donor or their family, parents can also opt to donate cord blood to a public stem-cell bank, like the NHS Cord Blood Bank, which are then made available for public use.

But there is still some doubt over the need for private cord blood banking.

"There is still very little evidence to support the need for parents of healthy children to use expensive private cord blood banking,” Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research, Policy and Support at the blood cancer charity Bloodwise told Yahoo UK.

“Childhood blood cancers are thankfully very rare and the vast majority of children will be successfully treated with chemotherapy.

“Even if a stem cell transplant is required, one cord may not be enough and treatment is likely to be more successful using an unrelated donor.

“We would urge parents to donate cord blood to the NHS cord blood bank in those hospitals where this option is available."

According to the BBC, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have previously said they supported public but not private banking.

They claim there has not been enough evidence to recommend routine private cord collection and banking unless there was a medical reason.

But both bodies told the BBC that they were currently looking at their position on the topic.

While many parents are opting to save their babies umbilical cord for health reasons, others are hoping to turn theirs into keepsakes.

Yep umbilical cord art is an actual thing.

From jewellery to dream catchers, turns out there’s a whole slew of Insta-mums getting crafty with their babies’ umbilical cords.

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