Saturday, 18 August 2018

Is Cord Blood Banking Necessary?

Becoming first-time parents sure comes with lots of stuff (and costs) to think about. One of the key concerns we had was whether we ought to store our baby's cord blood - our gynae and relatives were for it, but the sentiments online were mixed.

We've always heard that storing a baby's cord blood was expensive, but when we enquired, the costs were honestly much lower than what we expected. At just $5,000+ to store our baby's cord blood for 21 years, that works out to be less than $20 a month - even lesser than what we pay for (financial) insurance!

Image credits

Stem cells have the immense potential to treat cancers and blood disorders, and have shown promising results thus far in many clinical trials which are ongoing for regenerative therapies. This is largely due to their unique ability to transform into specialized cells which are able to perpetually create more copies of themselves.

At present, over 35,000 cord blood transplants have already been performed around the world to treat various diseases. In fact, I see it as a form of insurance (like what I told my husband when trying to convince him that the cost was worth it), except that it is even better than typical (financial) insurance because whereas those can only cover or offset costs, this form of biological insurance has the potential to treat and cure the condition!

When we asked around, it turned out that most Singaporean parents choose either to:
- store with a private bank
- donate it to the public bank
- discard it entirely (what a waste!)

However, our journey towards deciding whether to bank our child's cord blood (and later on, WHICH company to choose) wasn't as straightforward as we thought it would be. 

We met up individually with the sales representatives of Cordlife, Stemcord and Cryoviva, and even spoke to Singapore Cord Blood Bank (SCBB), but received such conflicting advice that we were honestly stumped whether or not to privately store or donate it. It didn't help that when we asked around, there were many who shared that they donated their baby's cord blood to SCBB instead of choosing to store it privately.

But when I dug further, it turned out that SCBB rejects most of the donated samples. Read more here on why I didn't think donating my baby's cord blood to SCBB was a good idea after speaking with SCBB, Cryoviva, Stemcord and Cordlife.

This article also provides another point of view that encapsulates ours. This line really resonated with me:
Why pay a few thousand dollars to privately bank your baby’s cord blood when you can donate it for free to a public cord blood registry?  If your child ever gets sick, you can just look for a “match” in the public registry and it should be there, right?  Wrong.

Wait, isn't cord blood banking a scam?!

After spending weeks researching on this issue, I most certainly do not think so. 

Science and technology has developed so much such that today, stem cells from cord blood has been proven useful in the treatment over over 80 diseases. The figure was less than half just a decade ago. With over 800+ clinical trials ongoing around the world, and as scientists continue to find new ways of using stem cells for treatment, just imagine how much more potential we could discover in the near future. Some new areas where research into cord blood stem cells is currently being done include brain injury, juvenile diabetes, cerebral palsy, congenital heart defects, hearing loss, liver disease, spinal cord injury, and more.

The umbilical cord blood and lining contains three types of stem cells - haematopoietic, epithelial and mesenchymal stem cells - which have shown immense potential in not just treating various diseases, but also aiding the repair of injured tissues and organs.

Of course, it is still fairly early days, but the cord blood banks are already saving lives (SCBB and Cordlife have had many cases of successful transplants) and as research continues, it is very likely that in the future, more ways of using cord blood to treat more diseases may be found. Don't forget that these undifferentiated cells contain a powerful ability to specialise into different cell types, which is where their promise of treating diseases lie in.

The science is exciting! Who knows what the future will bring, and what more we will discover? I don't want to have to rule out the possibility for my child and my family just because we decided not to bank it to save a few thousand bucks - like what my husband said, he'll rather forgo one family holiday and spend the money where it matters...for health.

Can't stem cells be used from other sources aside from cord blood?

Indeed, haematopoetic stem cells can also be obtained from the adult bone marrow, but not all transplants work out either. On the other hand, c
ord blood stem cells require a less stringent HLA matching compared to bone marrow stem cells, and also a lower risk of developing graft vs. host disease. 

The cost is also significantly different - it can cost up to $64,000 to procure a matching unit for bone marrow or public cord blood banks (or up to $40k provided you're lucky enough to find a match in SCBB locally), whereas it costs nothing if you had banked it privately for your own family's use.

Should I store just the cord blood, or the cord tissue as well?

This was another difficult decision we had to make, because it meant paying more if we wanted to store more than just the cord blood stem cells. So I did more research and spent hours on Google Scholar to understand more about the three types:

stem cells
Epithelial stem cells 

Mesenchymal stem cells

Can differentiate into…
Healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets

The soft tissues that connect, support or surround certain structures or organs in our body including the lining of the cornea, skin and liver

Structural tissues - bone, cartilage, muscle, fibrous tissues, and fat.

Can be used to treat
Blood diseases or cancers such as leukaemia, immune-deficiencies, metabolic disorders, refractory anaemia, tumors, bone marrow failure, etc.
Soft tissue repair (eg. diabetic surface ulcers, burns on skins), organ lining regeneration (liver, pancreatic or gastrointestinal lining), and even eye (to replace cornea membrane)
Tissue repair (eg. in stroke patients, heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, repair of the bone, catrilage and/or tendon, liver failure), immune modulation (HIV, type 1 diabetes, Graft vs. host disease)
Cord blood
Cord lining
Cord tissue (Wharton’s jelly)

Some other common concerns we found online (on Hardwarezone forums) were:

1. During labour, if the gynae missed something and the cord blood is not sterile, it will be rejected and you will still need to pay --> this is not true, as there is no payment if your cord blood is not viable for storage.

2. Why not donate it to the cord blood bank which is free, and you'll get the cord blood within one year if you need it? --> This is not entirely true as it may have already been discarded (without your knowledge!) or used by someone else. Read what I discovered about SCBB here. 

3. If you do not have hereditary blood problems, chances are, you will not need it --> not true, as certain blood disorders develop as a result of the environment. Moreover, if one's blood condition is hereditary, then all the more their cord blood will NOT be suitable for usage, since it would have already contained the genetic defect anyway!

4. They are so freaking expensive...they use the fear of humans to make them sign up --> "expensive" certainly is a subjective term, but for as low as $19 a month, if you can afford it, I think it is a small price to pay for such biological insurance. Even my monthly premiums for hospitalisation insurance costs wayyyy more than that, and my ISP cannot treat me (it can only waive off my financial bills), whereas cord stem cells offer me at least a chance of treatment or even a cure! 

If you can afford to go on holiday or spend on expensive tuition for your kids, I believe one can most definitely afford to do cord blood banking.

All in all, I do NOT think cord blood banking is a scam at all, and in fact, after spending hours researching on whether to store or even donate, I'm even more sure that for any parents who can afford it, private cord blood banking is the way to go.

The last thing you'll want is (lest anything happens in the future) for you to have looked back in regret and think, if only I had banked my child's cord blood! 

I know I don't want to have, or live with, that sort of regret.

Next up, I'll be comparing between the different options and plans for cord banking in Singapore!

With love,
Budget Babe

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Save Money by Getting These Baby Must-Haves from Taobao!

It is no secret that I'm a huge Taobao fan - after all, I'm that bride who saved tons of money by purchasing my wedding stuffs on Taobao, including my customized wedding gown! I've written about my Taobao wedding purchases here and here previously, and have been using SGShop for my purchases since 2016.

Well, with all the upcoming baby expenses, I've also been shopping around diligently and doing lots of window shopping at Mothercare and Kiddy Palace, among other shops, to compare prices and quality. What I've discovered is that many of the items sold locally are priced at a premium, and I've actually been able to find the same - if not extremely similar - products on Taobao instead, therefore saving me tons of money!

While there are still some items that I'll get in person locally - such as a UV steriliser and a car seat for safety reassurances - I've found Taobao to be cheaper by far for many of the items I feel we will need for our baby. Even after factoring in shipping costs, many of these items cost much lesser than those at baby fairs here!

Without further ado, here's my Taobao shopping list and haul:

Baby Shower Net
Afraid that baby might slip out of your hands during shower time? Use a baby shower net to eliminate any chances of baby slipping or even hitting his/her head so you no longer have to dread bathtime!

Price: S$4.50
Link: here

Baby Rompers
Get those made from pure cotton as some babies may have sensitive skin.

Price: S$2
Link: herehere and here.

Baby Towels
You'll need lots of these for wiping off milk spills and baby saliva. Choose among these absorbent gauze / cotton / bamboo fibre ones from Taobao.

Price: S$2
Link: herehere and here.

Baby Sling
Got no money for a Tula? Missed Aviva's promotion for a free Tula with their maternity insurance packages (it's still ongoing, btw)? Fret not, you can get cheaper and stylish baby slings here as well! This design comes with a baby seat to offer more support as well. Just note that you'll probably want to pay more attention to the support and safety features by reading reviews if you're choosing to get a baby sling online instead.

Price: S$18

Link: here

Waterproof baby bedsheets
So that the mattress underneath remains clean, dry and unstained. Can use for baby's bed or even on your own (to absorb any leaking breastmilk!). These ones are washable so you can easily reuse them as well.

Price: S$2.25
Link: here and here, or get a bigger sized one here.

Crib Storage Organiser
All you need for changing baby within this nifty organiser for putting diapers, wet wipes and more. I see similar models retailing in Singapore shops for much higher prices!

Price: S$18

Link: here

Baby Cot
Been eyeing the gorgeous baby cot featured on Zoe Raymond and Naomi Neo's Instagram page? So was I...until I found out that the cot retails for $1,500 and they were sponsored for it anyway. If you're not keen to spend so much, here's a close substitute on Taobao that you can consider for 1/7 of the price.


Price: S$200
Link: here and here

Baby Gym
Perfect for hours of entertaining your baby while you get other tasks done, this baby gym will also train your baby's motor skills while having fun in the meantime.

Price: S$11
Link: here

Baby Bib (for meals)
Great for avoiding a mess during mealtimes as it catches falling food.

Price: S$2.25 each
Links here, herehere and here.

Belecoo Baby Stroller
I love this baby pram for its ability to transform from a horizontal crib into an upright seat, which sees your baby through his/her newborn days all the way till they're a toddler. I've seen the same strollers being sold by third-party retailers here in Singapore for 2 to 3 times of its price, so you might as well buy straight from Taobao and use all that savings to get your other baby essentials instead.

Lightweight, foldable and with a reclining / upright option, this baby stroller also takes heavy weights so you don't have to worry about the pram toppling over!

Price: S$52

Link: here

Dual-function Maternity & Breastfeeding Pillow
This will be a lifesaver for mummies when you hit your second trimester and your baby bump grows so big that you can barely sleep easy at night due to the discomfort. Cushion it and sleep easier with the help of a maternity pillow, which will support your baby bump and even out the weight distribution.

Most maternity pillows are big and bulky (my bed doesn't have space for that!) so I wasn't very keen on getting one initially, until I found this dual-function model that can double-up as a breastfeeding pillow, or even for baby to lie on!

Price: S$13.50
Link: here

Maternity Photoshoot Outfits

Get your maternity outfits for cheap on Taobao for a photoshoot to commemorate your pregnancy journey - after all, you only get pregnant a few times in your life!

Price: S$13 and up

Link: here

Diaper Bag

Skip the jujube and go for a much more affordable diaper bag that is equally (if not more) stylish and easier to match with your fashion outfits.

This is a must-have whenever you bring baby out. It is important to look for one that is waterproof and with many compartments inside so that you can fit all the diapers, milk bottles, baby wipes, baby towels, change of clothes, etc.

Price: $11.15

Link: here

*** Sponsored message below ***

SGShop is celebrating its 7th birthday this August, and they've lined up tons of freebies and promotions to share with all of us, making it the perfect time for you to check out your items and save on shipping and service fees!

Key promotions that I reckon are worth taking advantage of during their birthday month:
  • 13 - 30 August: free / agent fee capped at $17
  • 1 - 31 August: enter the jackpot with every purchase made! There will be 3 tiers of prizes available - 7 winners get $70 coupons, 700 winners get 70% off service fees, while another 70 will get 10% off normal sea shipping!
Which option should you pick? Buy-for-Me, Ship-for-Me, or SmartShop? 

Here's an easy guide to help you decide:

If you are…
Not fluent in Mandarin and need a third-party to help liaise on your behalf

Need to customize your item or enquire about features

Looking to save money on service fees

Fluent in Mandarin to communicate with sellers directly on Taobao

Looking to only make payment once.

Items already have estimated weights so shipping fees can be factored in right from the start. The SmartShop items are marked by the blue S logo on the top right corner of listings.
You get
Service fees includes inspection to ensure quality and spot defects
The option to add on inspection fees
No surprises in shipping fees
Ordering process
1. Order and pay for the cost of the product + Chinese domestic delivery.

2. Item arrive at SGShop warehouse in China, where it’ll be inspected and weighed for international shipping to Singapore.

3. You will then be prompted to make a second payment to SGshop for international shipping + 4 - 8% service fees + $0.98 customs clearance.

4. Opt for self-collect or home delivery at a fee.

This method involves 2 – 3 rounds of payment (China-to-China, China-to-Singapore and Singapore domestic shipping).
1. Shop and pay through Taobao’s own site.

2. Enter SGShop Guangzhou warehouse address as the delivery destination.

3. Submit your order details with the relevant information such as the Taobao order ID and delivery tracking number on SGshop’s website

4. When the items arrive at SGShop warehouse, they will be weighed to calculate the shipping cost. You will then be prompted to make payment to SGshop for the shipping from China to Singapore + $0.98 customs clearance.

5. Opt for self-collect or home delivery at a fee.

1. Browse under the Smartshop Featured Items tab here.

2. Add to cart and check out.

3. Make payment, which includes product price and international shipping.

4. Choose the collection or delivery method once items have arrived in Singapore.

If you're a first-time user, here are some promo codes I've consolidated for you to take advantage of:

  • Click here for $5 free via my referral code (with no minimum spending!)
  • "WELCOME50" for 50% off service fees
  • "SGBUDGETBABE10" for 10% off economy air shipping
Have fun shopping!

Disclaimer: The bottom portion is a sponsored message by SGShop to get the word out about their services. All reviews and recommendations above are that of my own and sourced through my own time browsing and shopping online. I've been a satisfied customer of SGShop since I've started using them many years ago, and have previously shared about how their customer and warehouse team was a big help when it came to customizing my wedding gown and other items. 

If you use my referral code for $5 free, I'll get $5 too! :) you can also share your own referral code with your friends and family afterwards so each of you get $5!

Do also note that all of the Taobao items above are sourced by myself over the past few months and were not recommended by SGShop. If you've any more great Taobao finds to share with fellow parents in Singapore, please feel free to leave me a comment below with the links and I'll be happy to look at adding them to this list!

With love,
Budget Babe