Donating blood? Know before you go!

January is National Blood Donor Month, so there’s no better time to get to your nearest donation center and do what you can to help! If you’ve never donated blood before, there are a few things you should know – the experience is a little different than having blood drawn for a few routine lab tests. Be prepared by knowing some do’s and don’ts  of what to expect, before, during, and after you go.

Before you donate

  • DO make sure sure that in general you’re getting a healthy amount of iron in your diet. Iron rich foods include red meat, fish, spinach, and beans.
  • DON’T stay up all night before you donate. Get a full and good night’s rest!
  • DO make sure you’re sufficiently hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and throw in an extra 16oz of water or or another nonalcoholic fluid (like a sports drink) before you donate.
  • DON’T go out for a burger and fries before donating. Fatty foods can affect the tests done on your blood, and may result in your donation not being used at all. Eat a healthy meal beforehand instead!
  • DO remember to bring at least your driver’s license with you to the donation site. A donor card, or two other forms of ID will work as well.
  • DON’T wear clothing that doesn’t let you expose your arm. If you’re wearing something with sleeves, make sure they can be rolled up to above your elbow.

Story time: The first time I decided to donate blood, it was a casual decision made about midday with zero real preparation. Combined with my nerves about the whole thing, it certainly wasn’t the best experience.   With regards to the tips on diet, sleep, and hydration, I can definitely say that it’s better to heed these recommendations before attempting to donate blood, especially if you know you want to donate way ahead of time.

During the donation

  • DO let the person taking your blood know important information that may be relevant to your donation experience. For instance, if you have a preferred arm you always use for blood draws, or if there are any veins that have been particularly successful in the past.
  • DON’T be afraid to ask questions. If you’re feeling uncomfortable at any time during the process, it’s important to let someone know!
  • DO try to relax. Bring your mobile device and a pair of headphones with you to listen to music or watch a show. You can also pack a book and get some reading done. Or, if you’re feeling social, make conversation with some of the other donors.
  • DON’T skip out on the post-donation refreshments. Always take advantage of snack time, especially if you’re feeling a little woozy after donating. It’s important to re-hydrate!

When I donated, I actually had to call it quits part of the way through the process (which was kind of embarrassing). Poor preparation and nerves got the better of me which made it really hard to relax, and eventually it was impossible to squeeze even a drop of blood out of my arm! It was painful, so I let the attendant know we had to stop. As always, you are your own best advocate, so don’t be afraid to speak up if you need to.

After you donate

  • DO go and get a celebratory drink….if that drink is an extra 4 glasses of water or sports drink. You definitely want to avoid alcohol over the next 24 hours until your body has recovered.
  • DON’T immediately discard the bandage from your arm. That needle was definitely a little larger than typical, so keep the bandage covering the needle site covered for at least the next several hours.
  • DO clean the area around your bandage with soap and water. This can help prevent the development of a rash.
  • DON’T do any heavy lifting or vigorous exercise for the rest of the day. You heard it here first – you can (and should) skip your workout for today. Focus on letting your body recover!
  • DO take note of any issues or discomfort you experience afterwards, and act accordingly. For instance, if the needle site starts to bleed, you can apply pressure to the area and raise your arm straight up until the bleeding stops, about 5-10 minutes. Or, if you experience any dizziness or feel lightheaded, sit or lie down until you start feeling better. Seek medical attention if the discomfort you’re experiencing persists.

As tempting as it is to resume business as usual right after giving blood, it can’t be emphasized enough that you need to take care and slow down a bit.  Don’t worry – all of that busy and exciting stuff you wanted to do will still be there tomorrow. Your body will thank you for the rest!

This month, be on the lookout for blood donation events and that familiar Big Red Bus or Blood Mobile parked around town.  OneBlood, a not-for-profit servicing most of Florida, has a website you can check to locate a bus or donation center in your area. You can do the same through the American Red Cross as well. Grab some friends or family and make an afternoon of it!


Blood Donation Resources

Schedule an appointment or locate a donation site

Learn More About Donating

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