April 23rd, 2008
12:19 PM ET

To save or not to save?

By Caleb Hellerman
Senior Medical Producer

Having a baby is stressful. Even the third time around, there's a room to prepare and clothes to pull from storage ("My God, those are tiny!"); there's the actual birth (my wife does the heavy lifting) and there are siblings to reassure: "Why does the baby get to sleep in your bed?"  This month, my wife and I wrestled with another tough question: Should we sign up for cord blood banking?

Unless you're a relatively new parent, this begs explanation.  The blood from a baby's umbilical cord is rich in stem cells, the versatile cells that could eventually play a role in treating countless diseases.  Already they can be used to treat childhood leukemia, sickle cell anemia and a few other devastating conditions.  Stem cells from cord blood are considered especially useful, for their versatility in treatment and because they're untainted by the outside environment.

Your doctor may be able to get stem cells through a public bank – but the odds of finding a genetic match are much better with cells from a family member, or, better yet, yourself. The stem cells from our newborn's cord would be a perfect match for him, and could probably help his brother or sister, too.

So why not give it a shot? For one thing, as the glossy brochure points out, it costs almost $2,000, not to mention another $125 a year for storage.  We're fortunate in that we can even consider writing a check that big, and it doesn't come with a guarantee – at this point many promised stem cell therapies are still just theoretical.

With my first son and daughter, we donated the cord blood to a public bank.  But this time, in the end, we bit the bullet and signed up. The kit for the hospital is sitting on the counter by the phone, next to my wife’s toothbrush.

Is banking your baby's cord blood a good idea? What's the toughest medical decision you ever made as a parent? 

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.