What is cord blood?
After a baby is born, the blood left in the placenta and umbilical cord is rich with potentially lifesaving blood stem cells. This blood is called cord blood and can treat over 80 diseases and disorders, including leukemia, lymphoma, aplastic anemia and sickle cell disease.
According to Canadian Blood Services, at any given time, there are hundreds of patients in need of a stem cell donor. However, approximately 75 per cent of patients who need a blood stem cell transplant are unable to find a suitable match within their own family. This is where publicly banked cord blood becomes a life-saving option.
"Unfortunately, cord blood donation is not a well-known process and, more often that not, cord blood is thrown away as medical waste after labour and delivery," says Becky Luk, Cord Blood Stem Cells Collections Supervisor, Canadian Blood Services. "But cord blood donation is the least invasive way to collect blood stem cells."
Becky also notes that cord blood can be safely stored for many years. There are examples of cord blood stem cells being transplanted after 16 years without any deterioration in quality.
Iris Fung, an expectant mother and a registered nurse at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre, shared her story of deciding to register to donate her baby's cord blood.
"My partner and I discussed cord blood donation with our doctor, and we had to think about whether we wanted to bank with a private blood bank or donate to the public one," says Iris.
"We chose to donate to the public one because it can help so many more people – for some patients, a stem-cell transplant is literally life-saving."
"I'm really thankful my partner reminded me to register to donate cord blood!" laughs Iris. "With pregnancy brain, it's hard to keep track of everything. But it's a very easy process to sign up to donate and I feel like it is important to give back to the community."
Canada's public cord blood bank is run by Canadian Blood Services and BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre is one of only four hospitals in Canada that collects and stores cord blood for the public cord blood bank.
"The cord blood collection process is completely safe and painless for both mother and baby," says Dr. Janet Lyons, senior medical director of the Maternal Newborn Program at BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre.
Cord blood is also key for research.
"Nothing goes to waste during a cord blood donation," says Becky "If we collect cord blood and it is not viable for banking, it can still be used in research to help support new discoveries and cures."
If you're interested in donating your baby's cold blood:
- Talk to your doctor, nurse or midwife about the process
- Learn about eligibility and register online
- Remember to inform hospital staff of your wish to donate when you arrive at the hospital for your delivery
Learn more about how you can give life twice through cord blood donation.