Umbilical Cord Blood Banking

More and more expectant parents are banking their newborn babies’ cord blood these days. What is this new technology all about?

What is Cord blood?

After a baby is delivered, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut. In the remaining cord and placenta, there is still about 100 mL of fetal blood. This “left-over” blood is called cord blood and is traditionally discarded as biological waste. However, scientists have recently discovered that cord blood is very rich in a special kind of cells called stem cells. They can be used to treat many diseases. It is therefore a real waste to discard the cord blood!

What are Stem cells?

Cord blood stem cells are powerful “master cells” that are similar to the stem cells in the bone marrow. They can continuously renew & regenerate themselves and develop into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, integral components of our blood and immune systems.

What are the uses of cord blood stem cells?

Since 1988, cord blood stem cells have been increasingly used in place of bone marrow stem cells in the treatment of many diseases that require bone marrow transplantation, such as leukemia, lymphomas, and certain types of anaemia and immunodeficiency disorders. In treating these life threatening diseases, the biggest challenge traditionally was finding a matched bone marrow donor. Many patients unfortunately, may never find a donor or find one too late to be of any use. With cord blood stem cells banked, there is no worry whatsoever about finding a donor, if ever there is a need for a bone marrow transplant. The stem cells are a 100% perfect match for the cord blood donor, and can be ready in 48 hours.

Family use banking

The cord blood stem cells can also be used by other members of the family. Clinical trials have shown that chances of transplant success are very good with these stem cells. Furthermore, there is a much lower risk of “Graft versus Host Disease”, a serious complication common in transplants using unrelated bone marrow stem cells.

Cord blood versus Bone marrow

Many researchers have compared the clinical outcomes of cord blood transplant patients with those of bone marrow transplant patients. All agree that transplants using cord blood stem cells have many advantages over bone marrow. This is why in countries like Japan and the US the number of transplants using cord blood stem cells now exceeds that of bone marrow.

The only major drawback with cord blood transplants is the limited number of stem cells in each unit of cord blood. For transplants to be successful there has to be a sufficient number of donor stem cells transplanted into the recipient, and this number is determined by the body weight of the recipient. Hence it is very, very important that cord blood is collected at delivery and that as much cord blood as possible is collected.

Future potential uses of cord blood stem cells

Intense research is on-going with cord blood stem cells in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. These stem cells may one day be used to treat many diseases other then those of the blood and immune systems, such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.

Since cord blood stem cells can be cryopreserved for many years, saving a child’s cord blood today may be an important investment in his or her future health. It is not an unrealistic expectation that such advanced stem cell technology may become a reality during the lifetime of the child whose cord blood has been stored.

How is cord blood collected?

Collection is simple, painless and risk-free for mother and baby. After your baby is delivered, your doctor or midwife can collect the cord blood easily in a few minutes, using the collection kit provided by your cord blood bank. Just make sure you remember to take the collection kit to your hospital when you go into labour. The cord blood is collected in a sterile blood bag with an anticoagulant that prevents the blood from clotting, then it is transported to the bank for processing.

How long can cord blood stem cells be stored?

When cord blood stem cells are properly processed and cryopreserved at -196°C in liquid nitrogen, they should remain viable indefinitely. The only thing that may damage these cells under such circumstances is background cosmic radiation, which we are all exposed to. It is calculated that the half-life of these cryopreserved stem cells is approximately 2000 years.

Choosing a cord blood bank

There are quite a few cord blood banks in Canada. I believe all are fair and ethical and comply with basic processing standards. However, banks accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) have more credibility because they have been objectively evaluated by an independent international organization with expertise in credentialing blood banks worldwide.

Prenatal Yoga

Congratulations! You’re pregnant! It is an exciting time in your life, whether it is your first pregnancy or you are a seasoned pro. With all the excitement also comes changes and uncertainty. Your body is changing, your emotional and mental states have become inconsistent waves rolling across the mind. Spiritually, you feel lost in a world of philosophies, myths and – at every turn of the page – different advice. You have become a sponge for any information regarding pregnancy, yet you question everything.

One major question you may have regarding your health and well-being is whether exercise is safe during this time. The undeniable answer is exercise, when practiced safely, is one of the greatest components for a healthy and happy pregnancy. The body is going through incredible and amazing changes – changes exercise can help ease the body through. Exercise also helps to decrease stress, negativity and uncertainty.

Yoga has increasingly become the most popular avenue for facilitating the various needs of pregnancy by including physical, emotional, mental and spiritual activity. Yoga helps a mother-to-be learn about her body, how it works and moves throughout her pregnancy. Strengthening and stretching the muscular system and learning breath control prepares her for birth. Emotionally and mentally, yoga helps to relieve stress and improve confidence at a time of so many uncertainties. It also helps to develop trust in self, in the baby and in the birthing process. On a spiritual level, yoga allows the expectant mother to connect with her baby and trust her mother’s intuition to provide a safe environment during pregnancy. It will teach her the skills to stay calm and focused during labor.

Relaxation

Relaxation is not only key in coping with and overcoming the fear of labor, it can also play a major role in the health and relationship you have with your pregnancy, both physically and mentally. Relaxation methods can develop trust between mother and baby and in the birthing process, provide ways of dealing with pain, discomfort, and mental and physical endurance by cultivating awareness and mindfulness of the body. By learning about the body and how to relax it, an expectant mother can overcome her fear of the unknown and learn to accept the changes that will be taking place. Through acceptance, a mother-to-be will become able to live in the present moment, whether it is holding a yoga pose for one more breath, feeling the first movement from her baby or staying present throughout contractions and labor, knowing the pain will eventually subside.

Deep relaxation and even hypnosis have become a most effective way of staying focused and calm throughout the challenges of pregnancy and labor. Yoga classes are always completed with Shivasana, a full body and mind relaxation.

Pranayama (Breathing)

Through pranayama, or breathing techniques, expectant mothers can learn to control their minds, moods and even heal and overcome physical pain and discomfort. Physically, deep breathing is so powerful that when practised, a person can acquire the skill of sending healing breaths to specific places in the body making it an incredibly powerful modality of pain management.

Mentally, it is equally as effective as a method of calming, focusing and connecting with your physical body, as well as separating yourself from it when needed. A mother’s breathing plays a major role in how an unborn baby is trained to breathe throughout their lifetime. It is a wonderful gift to offer a child in the womb that can benefit them for their entire life.

Three part yogic breathing is an incredibly powerful technique in yoga and benefits pregnancy. It guides movement, thought, nutrients and healing though the body and mind. This is extremely important for baby’s crucial growth. Labor is a time when pain and stability can feel insurmountable and breath is the perfect guide to walking through it with optimum health and a calm sense of sanity.

Yoga classes generally start with three part yogic breathing and the breath continues to guide one through the practice. Once mastered, this technique can guide you through many other areas of life.

Meditation

Meditation encompasses many powerful techniques to tune in and out, find stillness in the mind, body and soul throughout a pregnancy and escape pain and fear during labor. Setting intentions for a meditation is a wonderful way to send positive energy to a situation or emotion that one may be struggling with. There are many components and methods of meditation, which include visualization, mudras, chakras, chanting, toning and vocalization. Visualization is an increasingly used and celebrated tool in dealing with pregnancy worries, labor fear and pain management. It is the highest possible endorsement of pure inner confidence and creates the most personalized serene environment for a woman to return to when she needs. Specifics women visualize are empowering births and healthy and strong babies inside, they create sacred sanctuary retreats and release negativity and stresses.

Exercise

Regular exercise throughout the pregnancy is vital to a woman’s health, both in terms of physical fitness and body image. Yoga is considered a form of eccentric-strength conditioning. It eliminates some of the risks associated with other types of exercise and training. The physical side of yoga is a very personal and non-evasive practice that uses ones own body strength to lengthen, tone and help maintain flexibility. It allows for an acute sense of body awareness that provides the inner knowledge of when to pull back, thereby giving the body what it needs during various stages of the pregnancy. This awareness can become so specific that a daily practise can be altered to benefit many different areas. For example, during the first trimester when the hips are tight, fatigue and physical ailments are high. Second trimester when women feel stronger, a yoga practise can create a hyper-awareness of a body’s limits and what to watch for. In addition, during the third trimester, when movement and exercise become increasingly difficult, yoga can alleviate discomfort, which becomes crucial during the birthing process. This awareness takes on a life of its own in the stages of labor where a woman, who has yoga training can use her strongly developed body awareness in making the process of learning how to push and physically respond to the foreign demands of labor seem innate. Yoga can also be a great comfort to return to after birth. It can help both mental and physical well-being and decrease post partum depression. It is a gentle and comforting way to work a body back to shape, and where most classes even allow the convenience of including the baby!

Together, all the key elements of yoga work in a poetic harmony to provide countless benefits for pregnancy and labor. It is a gift to yourself and to your baby by creating a strong connection between body, mind and spirit.

Baby-Proofing Your Nursery

Bookcases, armoires, chest of drawers, change tables and all large pieces of furniture should be anchored to the wall to prevent them from tipping over and falling on top of baby.

DO NOT hang artwork or shelves above the crib or change table.

If you are using a nightlight make sure that it remains cool to the touch.

Put baby to sleep on his back on a firm, snug fitting mattress with no soft bedding.

Use plug covers on all unused electrical outlets.

Crib Safety:

– Check that your crib meets all crib safety requirements.

– Should have no decorative cut outs or corner posts.

– Check often to make sure the frame is solid and screws, nuts, bolts and all hardware are securely tightened.

– Make sure the mattress is a tight fit against all four sides of the crib.

– When the baby can sit up move the mattress down to its lowest level and remove all crib gyms, mobiles, hanging toys and decorations.

– Slats should not be more than six cm (2 3/8 inches) apart and should not be loose or turn when twisted.

– Your crib should have a label on it that shows when the crib was made and who the manufacturer is.

– Wood should be smooth and free of splinters.

– Health Canada recommends that soft mattresses, pillows, comforters, stuffed toys and bumper pads not be used in cribs. Once your baby can climb out – stop using the crib!

– Position your baby’s crib/bed away from all windows, lamps and electrical plugs. Drapes, blinds and blind cords should be kept out of baby’s reach and safely away from all sources of heat. Use a cord wind-up device or secure a bracket to the wall to wind the cord around it. Baby’s can strangle themselves with long loose blind cords.
– Windows should be securely locked. All window locks/latches should be out of baby’s reach. Install window guards if necessary.
– DO NOT use wicker furniture or wicker baskets – pieces can become loose and baby can choke on them.
– Your change table should have three raised sides. Never leave your baby unattended on the change table and always use the safety belt when changing your baby.
– Keep baby powder, cotton balls and other supplies out of baby’s reach.
– Keep floor clear of tripping hazards like throw rugs and electric cords.
– Make sure you have a child-safe toy box i.e. hinges with safety stops or a removable lid and ventilation – just in case baby climbs in and can’t get out.
– Install a doorstop to prevent fingers from getting pinched in the door. Make sure the doorstop is just one piece and made of rubber, do not use the more common metal spring doorstop with a rubber tip – these tips can be easily removed and pose a choking hazard.

Once your baby is able to walk and climb, take a look at the nursery through their eyes. If they can climb something and if it can lead to a potentially dangerous situation, remove it or relocate it. For example, if they like to sleep in their crib with a giant baby-safe bear…consider that they can use this lovely bear as a stepping stool to climb out of the crib.

Baby Fever

Finding yourself being hit with the urge to buy something – anything – for your baby-to-be? Sounds like you’ve been hit with a bad case of baby fever – a condition that tends to run rampant among mothers-to-be and that can be almost impossible to cure until your bank account runs dry and/or your credit card finally gives up the ghost. Here are six reasons why so many pregnant women end up shopping until they (literally!) drop:

Pregnancy lasts for nine months – about six times longer than the holiday shopping season. Imagine how much debt you could ring up if you were to spend nine months loading up on gifts for the holidays. Chances are you’d have an armload of presents for each person. Well, that’s exactly what happens if you fall into the all-too-common trap of hitting the baby boutiques the moment the pregnancy test comes back positive: you end up going on a nine-month-long shopping spree. Even if you only spend $50 each time you step inside a baby store – the baby world’s equivalent to a miracle, by the way – you can easily ring up a couple of thousand dollars worth of purchases by the time your real nesting instinct kicks in. And don’t think for a second that you can bypass that late-pregnancy spending spree by getting your shopping out of the way early on: if you’ve already purchased your baby’s entire layette by this stage of the game, you’ll simply find other baby-related products to spend your money on.

Most baby clothes are designed to be too adorable for words – just like the babies who wear them. Just think about what happens at a typical baby shower: there’s absolute silence as the mother-to-be opens up a gift and then a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” as everyone present cooingly admires the adorable duck-covered flannel sleeper, the unspeakably cute miniature running shoes, or whatever other baby-related item happened to come out of the package. The same thing happens the moment you set foot in a baby boutique: you find yourself picking up one adorable outfit after another and, in a matter of minutes, your baby-to-be ends up having a better wardrobe than you do.

You’ve already given up all your other vices by this point. Given that the more rabid pregnancy book authors will leave you feeling like the worst mother in the world if you eat anything other than free-range organic tofu, you’re long overdue for a bit of good old-fashioned sinning. And since most of the truly worthwhile vices are temporarily unavailable to a woman in your condition, all you’ve got left is shopping.

Shopping can help you to pass the time while you’re counting down the days until your baby arrives. It also can serve as a welcome distraction if you’re more-than-a-little nervous about what your labor will be like. Fortunately, there are far cheaper ways of keeping yourself occupied while you eagerly – and anxiously – await Junior’s grand entrance. Heck, you could probably treat yourself to lunch at the most expensive restaurant in town and an afternoon at the spa and still end up spending less than you would if you were to spend a comparable amount of time hitting the baby boutiques.

It can be next to impossible to distinguish between products that your baby really needs and products that your baby could probably live without. (Think baby wipe warmers!) Unless you’re fortunate enough to be able to drag a veteran parent along on your shopping trip with you – someone who can help you to distinguish between the frills and the necessities and to fend off not-so-well-meaning store clerks who seem determined to help you cram as much as possible into your shopping cart – then you’re likely to drop a bundle on stuff that could prove to be a colossal waste of money.

You’re too busy falling in love with your baby to worry about mundane things like dollars and cents. It’s only natural to want to shower your beloved with gifts, and this time you’re embarking on The Mother of All Love Affairs. But instead of going totally crazy and trying to equip your baby’s nursery with one of everything the baby books claim he needs, remind yourself that you’re already giving him the one thing he needs most: a mother who loves him. So if you’re looking for the ultimate birthday present for your baby, you’ve already got it. And there’s no wrapping required.

Bloody Good Science

A Life-Line for a Lifetime

Umbilical cords are routinely thrown away every day. Most parents don’t realize that the blood left in the umbilical cord contains stem cells that have been used successfully to treat more than 45 different medical disorders. Gradually more Canadian parents are choosing to store their baby’s cord blood stem cells.

Baby’s blood is precious to mom:

In 2001 Patrizia Durante was pregnant when a routine prenatal test showed that she had two different forms of leukemia. She delivered her baby prematurely and she had the foresight to ask that the cord blood be stored. Patrizia then endured 213 blood transfusions, 9 bone marrow biopsies and long bouts of chemotherapy. After a two-month remission, her leukemia was back. Doctors searched for a matching bone marrow donor but none could be found. When doctors told her she would die, Patrizia reminded them that they could use the cord blood. A five – minute transfusion of the cord blood was all it took. Within two months, her blood showed signs of improvement. Patrizia is now cured and her three-year old daughter is a happy, healthy girl.

How cord blood is stored:

The process is very simple. Parents register with a cord blood company and are provided with a collection kit that they take to the delivery room. After the baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut, a health professional collects the cord blood in the kit. Obstetrician, Dr. Michael Virro states, “The procedure takes less than 5 minutes and there is no risk to mother or baby.” The kit is shipped back to the laboratory where the stem cells are isolated and removed from the rest of the blood cells. They are then frozen and stored. Parents pay for processing the blood and will pay approximately $115 per year to have it stored. Some companies can accept new patients just days prior to delivery however most parents obtain their collection kits at about 36 weeks in case early labour begins.

Uses:

The first cord blood transplant occurred in the late 1980’s and since that time, its use has expanded exponentially around the globe. The US government has dedicated millions of dollars to umbilical cord stem cell research as an alternative to using controversial embryonic stem cells. Results are promising in the treatment of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and ALS.

Originally used to treat childhood leukemias, these remarkable cells are now being used to successfully treat over 45 different diseases. New England Journal of Medicine has reported successful use of cord blood in the treatment of adult leukemia as well as Krabbe’s disease in children. Cancer patients whose immune systems have been compromised after radiation and chemotherapy benefit enormously when these stem cells help them rebuild healthy bone marrow. Patrizia’s story of being unable to find a matching bone marrow donor is common-place because bone marrow recipients will reject any transplant that is not an identical match. Remarkably, a 50% match can be adequate for cord blood transplantation, making its potential for use with family members and unrelated recipients enormous. This is particularly important for children of mixed ethnic parentage, where finding a perfect bone marrow match is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

What to look for in a cord blood company:

When the time comes to use the cord blood, all transplant facilities, cancer treatment centres and physicians will review the cord blood processing company carefully to ensure that the cord blood is safe to transfuse into a sick patient. Canada has recently established criteria for accreditation of cord blood facilities but, to date, no private companies have been evaluated. It is possible that cord blood samples will be stored for many years before they are used so it is imperative that your cord blood bank is financially stable, scientifically advanced, and ethically sound. All parents should ask the following questions when reviewing a cord blood bank:

1.    When did the company open?
2.   How many samples has it processed and stored at the current facility?
3.    Has a sample been used for medical treatment from the facility?
4.    Does the company have an accreditation certificate from an accreditation body?
5.    Is your company financially stable so that my cord blood sample will be available if required 20 years from now?
6.    Is your processing and storage system a closed system (preferable as it prevents contamination from other samples) or an open system (samples may be open to environmental influences in the lab and storage container)

Ethics and Religion:

Unlike the debate surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells, there are no ethical issues associated with the collection/ use of cord blood stem cells. These stem cells come from tissues that would normally be tossed in the waste after childbirth. Dr. Peter Hollands notes, “The collection and storage procedure is easy, safe, quick, and low-cost. There is no discomfort to mother or child. There’s really no downside … except that many people still don’t know about it.”

Baby Shower Games

Bottoms up: Get 5 little plastic babies (in the cake decorating department). Put them in a cup. Each guests get three “rolls” as they try to get the babies to land with their bottoms up. The player with the most bottoms up after three rolls wins or faces off in tie.

Cotton Balls: Put about 5 cotton balls in a bowl and set another bowl right next to it. Time no more than 4 people for 1 minute. Blind fold them and put the spoon in there hand. Set the timer for 1 minute and let them race and whoever gets the most cotton balls in there other bowl wins.

Celebrity Babies: Each guest is given a list of celebrity moms on the left, and a list of names on the right. Match the celebrity mom to the name of her baby/child. Ex: Madonna would by matched to Lourdes, using only the first or first and middle names, etc. Whomever matches the most correctly wins. Names of celebrity’s children may be found online via different articles on many websites.

Blind Diapering: This game is like the “Diaper Mittens”…You will need a baby doll, 1 cloth diaper, 2 diaper pins, blind fold, stopwatch. Guests take turns putting a diaper on the baby doll while blind folded. The guest with the fastest and best diapering job wins a prize.

Balloon Game: This game requires lots of balloons (at least one for each guest). Cut up small slips of paper with a baby name written on each one, only one of the slips should say the chosen name for your baby. While blowing up the balloons insert one name into each balloon. Place the balloons all over the party room and each guest has to find the chosen baby name. The only way for them to find the right name is by busting the balloon by sitting on it. The one who finds the chosen name is the winner. Make sure the guests only do one balloon at a time.

Bloomers: This game is similar to musical chairs and hot potato, but you pass around a clothing gift box wrapped several times. Tell the players that there are a pair of bloomers inside the box. Whoever has the box in the end has to wear the bloomers. The box is passed around (quickly) while the music is playing. When the music stops, the person holding the box takes off a layer of wrapping paper. When you are down to no layers, pass the box around one more time till the music stops. The person stuck with the box, opens it and has to wear the bloomers for the rest of the party. The surprise is that the bloomers are two flowers stuck together on a safety pin (like a corsage).

Remember! Each winner should be rewarded with a prize. Visit the sales in your local department stores or even dollar stores to get together prizes for the winners. Look for prizes like candles, vases, coffee mugs, and picture frames!