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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration
Blood Cell Transplant

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Donating Umbilical Cord Blood to a Public Bank

Your decision to donate umbilical cord blood, which is rich with blood-forming cells, may potentially save the life of someone who has a life-threatening disease.

Donating cord blood to a public cord blood bank involves talking with your doctor or midwife about your decision to donate and then contacting a cord blood bank (if donation is an option at your hospital). Upon arriving at the hospital, remind the labor and delivery team that you are donating umbilical cord blood.

After the delivery of your baby, the umbilical cord and placenta are no longer needed. Because you are choosing to donate, the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta will be collected and tested. Cord blood that is determined to be suitable for transplant will be stored at the public cord blood bank until needed by a patient. (It is not saved for your family.)

By donating umbilical cord blood, you have chosen to try to help someone in need of a potentially life-saving transplant.

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Approximately Three Months Before Your Baby is Due (between your 28th and 34th week of pregnancy)

  1. Talk with your doctor or midwife about your decision to donate umbilical cord blood.
  2. Find out if your hospital collects cord blood for public donation and note the contact number of the public cord blood bank.

Participating Hospitals exit disclaimer

Cord blood donation is free to parents. Public cord blood banks pay for the collection, testing, and storing of umbilical cord blood. This means that cord blood donation is not possible in every hospital.

If a public cord blood bank is not collecting in your area, perhaps there is another way you can help. exit disclaimer

Contact the public cord blood bank that works with your hospital (see above). Although each cord blood bank has its own instructions, they often include asking you to:

  • See if you meet basic guidelines exit disclaimer for cord blood donation. These questions are similar to those asked of blood donors. You can usually donate if you are:
    • Healthy
    • Expecting one baby (rather than two or more)
  • Complete forms about the health history of you and your family. This information is important. It ensures that your blood is free from diseases that can be transferred to another person.

    Medical professionals at the public cord blood bank will evaluate whether you can donate. If you have had a disease that can be transferred to another person through blood-forming cells, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or HIV (the AIDS virus), you will likely be unable to donate. However, other medical conditions may still allow you to donate, for example, hepatitis A or diabetes only during your pregnancy (gestational diabetes). The professionals at the public cord blood bank will decide.

  • Identify the type of expected delivery. All public cord blood banks collect donations following a vaginal or C-section delivery.
  • Sign a consent form to donate. This consent form states that the donated cord blood may be used by any patient in need. If the cord blood cannot be used for transplantation, it may be used in research studies or discarded. These studies help future patients have a more successful transplant.

    Keep a copy of the consent form in case you need to contact the cord blood bank.

    Each cord blood bank has different instructions for returning the consent form. Some banks may ask you to return the consent form along with the health history forms or to bring the original consent form with you to the hospital. Other banks may have you complete the form at the hospital. Follow the instructions from your public cord blood bank.

While You are in the Hospital

  • Upon arrival at the hospital, tell the labor and delivery team that you are donating umbilical cord blood.
  • While you are giving birth, everyone will be focused on you and your baby.
  • After your baby is delivered:
    • The umbilical cord is clamped.
    • Blood from the umbilical cord and placenta is collected into a sterile bag. (The blood is collected either before or after the placenta is delivered, depending upon the procedure of your hospital.)
    • The collected blood, called a cord blood unit, is given an identification number and stored temporarily. (The cord blood unit averages between one-third to a little over one-half cup or 90–150 cc.)
  • Usually the day after your baby is born, you will be asked for a sample of your blood to be tested for infectious diseases. This blood is taken from you only, not your baby.
  • Shortly after your baby's birth, the cord blood unit is delivered to the public cord blood bank.

What Happens at the Cord Blood Bank

After the cord blood unit arrives at the cord blood bank, it is:

  • Checked to make sure it has enough blood-forming cells for a transplant. (If there are too few cells, the cord blood unit may be used for research to improve the transplant process for future patients or to investigate new therapies using cord blood, or discarded.)
  • Tested to be sure it is free from contamination.
  • Tissue typed and listed on the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®. (The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units. When a patient needs a transplant, the registry is searched to find a matching marrow donor or cord blood unit.)
  • Frozen in a liquid nitrogen freezer and stored, so if the unit is selected as a match for a patient needing a transplant, it will be available.

Protecting Your Privacy After You Have Donated

You and your baby's identity are always kept confidential by the public cord blood bank. The cord blood unit is given a number at the hospital, and this is how it is identified on the registry and at the public cord blood bank.

Thank You for Considering This Generous Gift

Taking time to consider helping another person when you are already busy planning for the birth of your child is greatly appreciated. A gift of cord blood may someday give someone a second chance at life.

Questions About Cord Blood

Find answers to your questions about donating umbilical cord blood.

The Be The Match Registry® and the Matching Process

Learn about the registry of marrow donors and donated cord blood units and the matching process.