Expecting parents encounter many decisions, from what color to paint the nursery and whom to select as the pediatrician, to which prenatal tests to undergo.

Today, thanks to the advances in stem cell research, there is another important decision for expecting parents to make: whether or not to bank their baby’s amniotic fluid. We live in an era of fast medical advances, and parents should understand what amniotic fluid is and why it may be valuable beyond pregnancy.

Amniotic fluid is the nourishing and protective liquid that surrounds the baby in the belly during pregnancy. Medical research shows that this fluid is one of richest natural sources of stem cells that may help protect the health and well-being of the baby for years to come.

Stem cells are touted as the future of medicine. Pretty much every day, the latest stem cell scientific discoveries and medical studies make front-page news. And each new discovery moves the medical community one step closer to finding treatments for many life-threatening conditions and diseases. According to Dr. Jeffrey Karp of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, “Mesenchymal stem cells are poised to really be the next major success in cell therapy that could be used to treat tens of thousands of patients.”

Mesenchymal stem cells are the stem cells contained in amniotic fluid. They are multifunctional, meaning they can grow into many different organs and tissues, including kidneys, bones, skin, cartilage, the liver and cardiac muscle. These stem cells may help with common injuries, such as repairing cartilage for the knee, healing wounds and even growing a new heart valve for an aging heart. In just one example of the pioneering work with amniotic fluid, Dr. Jeffrey Jacot, the director of the Pediatric Cardiac Bioengineering Laboratory at Texas Children’s Hospital, is exploring the use of amniotic fluid stem cells for treating heart defects in newborn babies.

If Parents Choose to Bank Amniotic Fluid

Once the doctor has prescribed prenatal tests like amniocentesis to the expecting mom, and the family has decided to bank amniotic fluid, there are a few easy steps to follow.

  • Call an amniotic fluid bank for the sample collection kit and instructions.
  • Bring the kit with you to the prenatal test, permitting the doctor to place a small amount of fluid in the provided collection tubes.
  • Mail the sample within 24 hours of collection to an amniotic fluid bank for processing.
  • Receive an acceptance certificate verifying that the sample has been successfully preserved.

Already doctors are using these cells to solve significant medical challenges like applying mesenchymal cells as a liquid bandage to aid in healing the bone after spinal fusion therapy.

Pregnancy provides a unique time to preserve amniotic fluid. Collecting amniotic fluid for banking is easy and safe during prenatal tests throughout the entire pregnancy beginning as early as the second trimester. This might take place during genetic amniocentesis or fetal lung maturity amniocentesis. If a mom is scheduled to undergo amniocentesis for diagnostic reasons, during the procedure a small amount of already withdrawn fluid, which measures out to about a teaspoon to a tablespoon, is set aside and transferred to the amniotic fluid stem cell laboratory for preservation. After the sample is processed, it can be stored for years.

It’s important to know that collecting amniotic fluid does not impact the test results. In Europe, women have been safely and conveniently preserving amniotic fluid for years. This service became available in the U.S. in 2010.

During pregnancy, a family has the option to collect stem cells from amniotic fluid or cord blood. What’s the difference between the two? Cord blood contains blood stem cells. These stem cells are used for bone marrow transplantations and to treat blood-related disorders and certain genetic diseases. On the other hand, amniotic fluid contains multifunctional mesenchymal stem cells that can develop into many tissues and organs and offer a broad range of potential uses and therapeutic applications. Also, amniotic fluid stem cells are a perfect match for the baby, meaning organs and tissues grown from these cells are accepted by the body without risk of rejection.

However, current uses for mesenchymal stem cells are limited, and many unknowns remain about amniotic fluid potential for future uses. As such, parents may want to discuss with their healthcare provider whether or not to have mesenchymal stem cells stored. As parents consider the option of banking a baby’s amniotic fluid, they should weigh the pros and cons in order to make an educated decision.