During a pregnancy, a mom-to-be is faced with so many decisions that it can become overwhelming. Many of those decisions—such as how to share the good news, how many onesies to get or what color to paint the nursery—can be made on a whim. Other decisions, however, such as which prenatal tests to undergo or which medications to take while pregnant, require research and forethought.
Today, thanks to advances in stem cell research, there is one more important decision for a new mom to make: to bank, or not to bank, her baby's amniotic fluid.
Because there are still many unknowns related to amniotic fluid and its potential for future uses, the decision to have it collected for storing is one you may want to discuss with your partner and your health care provider. Below you'll find information to help you decide.
First, you need to understand what amniotic fluid is and why it may be valuable enough to you and your family for storing.
What Is Amniotic Fluid?
Amniotic fluid is the clear, slightly yellowish liquid that surrounds your baby within the amniotic sac. In addition to providing your baby with nourishment and protection while he or she is in utero, amniotic fluid has additional benefits, because it is one of richest, natural sources of stem cells.
- Inside amniotic fluid are mesenchymal stem cells. This type of stem cell is pluripotent, which means it has the ability to grow into different tissues and may ultimately be used to treat a variety of conditions. Current research shows the benefits of using these stem cells to help regenerate different organs and tissues including kidney, bone, skin, cartilage, liver and heart.
- Amniotic fluid stem cells are a perfect match for the baby, meaning organs and tissues grown from these cells will always be accepted by the body without risk of rejection.
- Amniotic fluid stem cells may also match immediate family members so preserving amniotic fluid may provide opportunities for siblings and parents to take advantage of medical advances.
How Is Amniotic Fluid Collected?
If you have decided to have an amniocentesis, collecting amniotic fluid for banking during your procedure is easy. Banking your fluid will not change the prenatal testing procedure in any way and will not have any impact on the tests results.
Many health care professionals typically withdraw more fluid than necessary for the prenatal test. So, rather than discarding already withdrawn leftover amniotic fluid, mothers now have the option to preserve a small portion, often just about a teaspoonful, of the fluid for decades.
What Are Stem Cells and Where Do They Come From?
Stem cells are the basic building blocks of a human organism, from which all other types of cells originate. They have remarkable potential for use in medicine because they can develop into different types of cells such as brain cells, heart cells, skin cells or muscle cells.
Stem cell research is one of the most important medical and scientific areas of study today, and each new discovery in the use of these cells moves the medical community one step closer to finding treatments for many life-threatening conditions and diseases.
There are many types of stem cells and four main sources for obtaining them: adult cells, cord blood cells, amniotic fluid cells and embryonic cells. The collection and use of stem cells from amniotic fluid avoids any potential ethical concerns because they are harvested without any harm to the baby.
What Are the Differences Between Amniotic Fluid and Cord Blood?
During pregnancy, you have the option to collect stem cells from amniotic fluid or cord blood, so it's important to understand the differences between the two:
- Amniotic fluid contains mesenchymal stem cells, which are multifunctional and can develop into many cell types, tissues and organs, including skin, muscle, neurons, cardiac tissue, kidney, liver, cartilage, bone, tendon and more. In the future, there might be a broad range of potential uses and therapeutic applications for these cells.
- Cord blood contains hematopoietic stem cells, which means they develop into blood type cells. These stem cells are used for bone marrow transplantations and to treat blood-related diseases.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Banking Amniotic Fluid?
As you consider the option of banking your baby's amniotic fluid, weigh the pros and cons for yourself and keep these points in mind:
- The greatest advantage to preserving amniotic fluid cells is that your child will have access to cells that are fully compatible with his or her own body, if the need arises.
- Although there is no guarantee, the amniotic fluid preserved offers other blood relatives a high probability of a match, if needed.
- There are initial and ongoing costs associated with banking stem cells.
- There are risks associated with having an amniocentesis. Speak with your health care provider.
Although current uses for mesenchymal stem cells are limited, the uses could expand rapidly if technological advances with amniotic stem cells are similar to recent advances with cord stem cells. Preserving and storing your baby's amniotic fluid stem cells could potentially offer your child, and other members of your immediate family, an opportunity to benefit from these advances in medical treatments.
For more information, speak with your health care professional so that you may make an educated decision about banking amniotic fluid.