Umbilical cord blood contains stem cells, which are immature cells that can grow into red or white blood cells or clotting cells. Stem cells can be used to treat a limited number of conditions, such as leukemia.
The umbilical cord is usually thrown away after birth. But the blood inside the cord can be saved, or banked, for possible later use. The blood is drawn from the umbilical cord after the cord has been clamped and cut.
Cord blood banks freeze the cord blood for storage. If you want to save the cord blood, you must arrange for it ahead of time. It's not a decision you can make at the last minute.
Private cord blood banking is expensive. You will pay a starting fee of about $1,000 to $2,000, plus a storage fee of around $100 a year for as long as the blood is stored. Some private blood banks will waive their fees for families who need the stem cells right away.
Donating to a public bank doesn't cost anything, and it makes the stem cells available to others. You probably won't be able to use the blood, but it could be used for research or for another child.
Doctors don't recommend banking cord blood on the slight chance that your baby will need stem cells someday. If your baby were to need stem cells, the cells would probably be from someone else rather than your baby's own stem cells.