How the Umbilical Cord Saves Your Baby’s Life—and the Lives of Others
It’s an unforgettable moment, when the baby’s umbilical cord is cut after birth. With that painless snip, you and your baby are officially separated. Until then, the umbilical cord served as a lifeline to your child, connecting them to the placenta and providing oxygen and nutrient-rich blood, while removing waste products. Once your baby is born, the cord is cut—it has served its purpose. But did you know that even then, your baby’s umbilical cord can still save lives?
Blood from the umbilical cord contains a special type of blood cells. These hematopoietic stem cells are used to treat and cure blood disorders, immune deficiencies, metabolic diseases and even some cancers. Hematopoietic cells are considered immature cells, and they can develop into all types of blood cells, including white or red blood cells and platelets. Their flexibility makes these cells particularly good for transplants and especially useful if no adult donor is a good match for the patient or the patient needs a transplant quickly.
Using the Umbilical Cord After Birth Helps Others
After the umbilical cord is cut, it is often thrown away, along with the life-saving hematopoietic stem cells. But parents can request their child’s umbilical cord blood be donated instead. The donation process begins when your baby no longer needs the umbilical cord. Once the cord is cut, the blood can be:
- Donated to a public cord blood bank, which is available to anyone who needs a transplant
- Saved in a private cord bank for exclusive use by your family
- Saved in a private bank for a sibling in need
More than 25,000 patients worldwide have received cord donations from public blood blanks. These are patients with leukemia or lymphoma who need donors with a tissue type that matches their own.
Patients from ethnically diverse communities have more difficulty finding donors that match. Expanding that network through more cord blood donations improves the chances of a successful transplant.
How to donate
To donate, you must meet certain guidelines as outlined in the National Marrow Donor Program, which includes being 18 or older, being between 28 and 34 weeks pregnant at the time of application, expecting only one baby, and having no history of certain illnesses or exposure to tattoos or piercings with shared non-sterile ink or equipment.
If you meet all of the guidelines, when you go into the hospital for the big day, be sure to tell the medical team you will be donating the umbilical cord blood. After the cord blood is collected, it will be tested for disease and typed, then listed on the Be the Match Registry, the largest and most diverse bone marrow registry in the world, frozen and stored until needed.
Umbilical cord donation is easy, painless and free. Even better, it can enhance the lives of others, even after its job of nurturing your baby is complete.
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