pregnant mother in hospital bed next to father and nurse

Umbilical cord blood donations allow for life-saving treatment, particularly for ethnic minorities. For this reason, California is an ideal place to raise awareness of cord blood collection.

In the past, cord blood has been thrown away as medical waste. If mothers wanted to keep cord blood for their family use, they had to pay.

That all changed in 2013, thanks to the California Umbilical Cord Blood Collection Program. This program allows mothers to donate their newborns' cord blood for public use at no cost to them or their insurance.

Learn about the California Umbilical Cord Blood Collection Program at UC Davis Health

What is cord blood?

Cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born. It contains special cells called hematopoietic stem cells. Cord blood can be used to treat more than 75 diseases.

Cord blood is an alternative to bone marrow for transplants because it contains all of the natural elements of the blood. It's also rich in blood-forming stem cells, which are similar to those found in bone marrow. However, cord blood does not require a total match between the donor and recipient.

Mothers are able to donate their newborns' cord blood and have it banked publicly for anyone in need of a transplant.

What is the importance of cord blood donations?

Thousands of patients each year are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases like leukemia, lymphoma or sickle cell disease. Many patients with those diseases, about 70%, don't have a complete match in their family.

Cord blood donations are especially important for ethnic minorities. This is due to a variety of factors. With cord blood, a partial match is acceptable. This allows more minority patients to find donated blood for treatment. In addition, Black people are more likely to have sickle cell disease. These patients can benefit from cord blood transplants.

Learn more about the benefits of cord blood

What are the advantages of using cord blood?

The stem cells in cord blood have the same benefits as those in bone marrow, but with a few advantages.

  • Cord blood collection involves no risk or trauma to the baby or mom. Bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell collections can be invasive and painful.
  • With cord blood, there is no need for an exact match because a newborn's immune system is not able to mount a full immune reaction. This reduces the chances that the recipient's body will reject the donation.
  • Cord blood can be frozen, unlike bone marrow, and stored for years or even decades. It can quickly be distributed when there is a need.
  • Researchers also say that cord blood has promise as an important source of stem cells, which can be used for possible therapies and treatments.

Cord blood is currently being investigated in a wide range of clinical trials.

Related from UC Davis Health: Why there's such a need for living donors and how you can help save a life

Why is it important to get a diverse pool of cord blood donors?

A wide variety of ethnic backgrounds increases the chances that minorities and people of mixed heritage can find a match. This will increase their access to life-saving treatments.

Typically, minorities are more likely to find a match from donors in their own ethnic group.

Are there any disadvantages to using cord blood?

One challenge in using cord blood is that it doesn't contain many stem cells. Donations from two donors can be combined to increase the number of stem cells. New methods to increase the number of stem cells before transplant have been developed.

Additionally, there sometimes isn't enough cord blood collected to preserve the unit. This can happen if the baby is preterm or if there's a long delay in clamping the umbilical cord. Also, different placentas naturally contain different amounts of residual cord blood.

What is the difference between public and private cord blood banking?

Public banking allows you to donate the blood for anyone who's in need. There is no cost to you because the blood bank covers all fees.

Private banking stores the cord blood for your family. Family cord blood banks are available across the United States. You are charged a fee for collection and storage.

How can the diversity in California help the availability of public cord blood banking?

Donations from California's diverse residents will increase the chances that anyone who needs cord blood can find a match.

UC Davis Health administers the California Umbilical Cord Blood Collection Program. The program is not a cord blood bank itself but partners California birthing centers with public banks. It also funds the personnel and supplies for collecting cord blood. The UC Davis Health team helps operate two collection sites in the Sacramento area. They are located at UC Davis Health and at Kaiser Roseville.

View other hospitals across California participating in the program

How can I donate my baby's cord blood after birth?

All mothers giving birth at participating hospitals, as part of the California Umbilical Cord Blood Collection Program, will be asked if they want to donate. This is dependent on eligibility requirements for donating, similar to those needed to donate whole blood.

Donation usually involves learning about the options of public vs. private banking, consenting to donate, maternal/family health history, and a blood sample collected from the mother. This ensures the safety of the cord blood for recipients.

If you change your mind before the cord blood is collected, tell your health care team and it won't be collected. If you change your mind after the unit has been sent to the bank, you can work with the bank to retract your donation.

Learn more about how to donate umbilical cord blood at UC Davis Health

Read more about cord blood banking from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology