Shawn Johnson East is among influencers promoting cord blood banking. What is it?

·7-min read
The Cord Blood Registry is one of several companies in the U.S. that "banks" a baby's cord blood. Cord blood banking is suddenly seeing an uptick in sponsored content among social media influencers. (Getty Images)

Instagram influencers regularly shill for products like vitamins for hair growth and energy drinks in return for financial compensation, but there's one service that's increasingly making the sponsored content rounds: the Cord Blood Registry, which banks your baby's umbilical cord blood. 

The ads echo a surge in sponsored content for Clearblue and First Response pregnancy tests, which have also shown up in posts by Instagram influencers. Pregnancy and fertility have increasingly become a big money-making opportunity for people on Instagram. Model Iskra Lawrence, for example, reportedly made more than $20,000 for promoting First Response when she announced she was pregnant with her first child. (Lawrence told the New York Times she gave away most of her fee to two followers experiencing infertility.) Bachelor star Ashley Iaconetti Haibon has also promoted the fertility company Modern Fertility while talking to fans about trying to conceive, and there are many others like her.

But cord blood banking is suddenly seeing an uptick in sponsored content too.

Former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson East, who has 3.1 million Instagram followers and is pregnant with her second child, announced earlier this week that she and her husband, Andrew, are doing a giveaway for a Newborn Stem Cell Bundle "from one of our FAVORITE companies," the Cord Blood Registry. The winner will receive free shipping and processing of cord blood and cord tissue, along with one year of storage, a $2,840 value. Johnson said her family banked her daughter Drew's cord blood and "couldn't be more excited to do it" with her new baby.

Something Navy founder Arielle Charnas, who has three children, also promoted the Cord Blood Registry in her Instagram Stories.

Banking cord blood is a newer technology, and it's understandable to have questions about what, exactly, this is all about and why it's suddenly in your Instagram feed. Here's what you need to know. 

What is the Cord Blood Registry?

The Cord Blood Registry is one of several companies in the U.S. that "banks" a baby's cord blood. Cord blood, if you're not familiar with it, is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born. 

New parents may choose to "bank," or store, their baby's cord blood for future use. That involves registering with the company in advance and taking a collection kit with you to the hospital or birthing center. Once your baby is born, the umbilical cord is cut and clamped and blood is drawn from the cord with a needle that has a bag attached, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The process takes about 10 minutes.

The blood is then couriered to a lab, where it will be stored for the future. 

Why do people bank cord blood?

Cord blood contains blood-forming stem cells that can be used in the treatment of patients with blood cancers like leukemias and lymphomas, as well as certain disorders of the blood and immune systems, such as sickle cell disease and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

"It can prevent a disease or cure if you happen to have cord blood and the disease is amenable to cord blood," Dr. Danelle Fisher, pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. "There are not a lot of diseases that can be helped by cord blood, but the list is growing every year."

"The medical science around these cells is continually evolving," Dr. Jaime Shamonki, chief medical officer of Generate Life Sciences, which owns Cord Blood Registry, tells Yahoo Life. "It’s a really exciting time for this field, and new parents have a tremendous opportunity to bank this precious resource for their children while potentially contributing to the future of medicine."

Cord blood is FDA-approved only for use in "hematopoietic stem cell transplantation" procedures, which are done in patients with disorders affecting the hematopoietic (blood-forming) system. For example, cancer is often found in the blood cells. Chemotherapy treatment kills both cancer cells and healthy blood-forming stem cells. Transplanted stem cells from cord blood can help regrow the healthy blood cells after chemotherapy, the FDA explains.

If there's a certain disease that tends to run in your family that can be treated with stem cells, Fisher says expectant parents may want to consider banking their cord blood, just to be safe.

"Simply put, it's like insurance," Dr. Michael Cackovic, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. "You buy it for peace of mind, and you hope you never need it. But if you do, it’s there."

Do many people bank their cord blood?

A spokesperson for Generate Life Sciences says the company has 1.2 million newborn stem cell units in its banks across the world, including Cord Blood Registry in the U.S., Cell Care in Australia, and Insception and Cells for Life in Canada.

Cackovic says that he's asked "a lot" about cord blood banking. "In my experience, it is popular," he says. "A lot of people consider it at some point during pregnancy, but fewer actually go through with it."

Fisher, who banked her son's cord blood, estimates that less than 10 percent of her patients' families have banked their cord blood. "I thought about it a lot and I know the science is expanding all the time," she says of her decision to bank her cord blood. "I'm happy to talk to parents about it," she adds.

Why are influencers suddenly promoting the Cord Blood Registry?

Rebecca Rothstein, director of content marketing at Generate Life Sciences, tells Yahoo Life that the company has partnered with social media influencers to help educate the public about its services.

"Cord Blood Registry's mission is to provide families with reliable newborn stem cell preservation services while also advancing the clinical application of these cells in clinical trials to expand what these cells can be used for," she says. "Educating families on the benefits of newborn stem cell preservation is essential because they only get one chance to make the decision to preserve their newborn's stem cells from the umbilical cord blood and tissue."

Cord Blood Registry "utilizes a robust influencer strategy to connect with parents and parents-to-be in an effort to educate, inform and make the complex science of newborn stem cells accessible and understandable to all," Rothstein says. Partnering with influencers "on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok enables us to share information on newborn stem cells with a wider audience and connect with new families who are unfamiliar with the process, she adds. 

How much does the Cord Blood Registry cost?

It's not cheap. The Cord Blood Registry offers several packages for parents, ranging from a payment of $1,685 for "processing," shipping and a year of storage, followed by a $185 annual storage fee, to annual payments of $49 a month over 48 months (for a total of $2,329), plus the $185 annual storage fee. Parents can also pay $4,195 up front to store their baby's cord blood for 18 years, or $6,195 to store their cord blood for a lifetime.

Other cord blood companies have similar fees. Cost is definitely a barrier for some expectant parents, Fisher says. "If you don't have the money, it's OK. This is not something that's for everybody," she says. "If you don't fit into an at-risk category for those rare diseases, don't do it and don't feel bad about it."

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