Everything you need to know about Giving Blood

Everything you need to know about Giving Blood

If you haven’t given blood before, you might have some concerns about how it all works. My lovely friends have provided me with some of their questions (thanks guys!) and I’m going to do my best to answer them.

[Note: I am in no way a medical professional and this is just meant to be a general guide based on my experiences. If you have medical concerns please, dear god, don’t take your advice from here!].

[Other note: these answers are based ongiving blood in Australia – if you live elsewhere it might be different].




Why give blood?

Every blood donation has the potential to save three lives. Three! That’s a lot of lives to save while sitting in a comfy chair and thinking about which free snacks you’re going to eat later on. There are a lot of people who can’t give blood for various reasons (more about this later) so it’s really important that the lucky people who can give donating some serious thought.


Who gets my blood once I’ve donated it?

34% of blood goes to treating people with cancer or blood disease, 19% goes to treating other causes of anaemia, 18% goes to surgery, and the rest is used for other medical conditions including new mums and trauma patients. 


What’s in it for me?

Apart from the warm fuzzies from potentially saving three lives (did I mention that it’s THREE lives?!), you also get free food and drinks after the donation. The idea is to help you rehydrate and refresh after the donation but I’ve never had anybody argue when I’ve stashed a few extra cookies on my way out.


The snack room is literally* this!  (*not literally)

The snack room is literally* this! (*not literally)

What actually happens during a blood donation?

Before you begin, you'll need to book in. In Australia, you can either do it here or by calling 13 14 95.

When you arrive at the blood bank, you will fill in a confidential health questionnaire including questions about your medical history, travel and activity which might prevent you from donating. 

Next you'll have a short interview to follow up on your questionnaire, check your haemoglobin levels (related to the amount of iron in your blood) with a finger prick test, and do a blood pressure test.

Then comes the actual donation. A nurse will put a blood pressure sleeve on you and tighten it. Next they will sanitise your inner elbow and insert the needle. They take a couple of samples to send off for testing before attaching the blood collection bag.


The blood collection bag rocks back on forth on this bad boy to prevent clotting. The machine will beep if the blood flow gets too low (don’t panic) and when you’re done. (Image: Waldszenen, Wikipedia)

The blood collection bag rocks back on forth on this bad boy to prevent clotting. The machine will beep if the blood flow gets too low (don’t panic) and when you’re done.(Image: Waldszenen, Wikipedia)

Once the donation starts you’re free to read your book / listen to a podcast / stalk your ex’s Facebook photos (no judgement here). The nurse might ask you to squeeze a pressure ball to help pump the blood a bit faster.

When you’re all done the nurse will unhook the blood bag, remove the needle from your arm and bandage you up. You might want to stay sitting for a little bit longer or if you've got your priorities right: head straight for the Great Hall of free food.  Make sure to take full advantage of the snack area until you’re feeling well enough to leave. 

More info here.

How long does it take?

It’s good to give yourself about an hour for the whole processbut only about 5-15 mins of this is actually giving blood.

How much do you give?

It depends on a lot of factors like your age, weight, and how many times you’ve given blood so far. For me it’s a bit under 500 mL.


Does it restrict the rest of your day?

After donating it’s recommended that you don’t do any heavy lifting with your donation arm for 3 hours, strenuous exercise or stand for long periods for the next 6 hours, or drink alcohol for the next 8 hours.You can find other recommendations here. I know from experience that things you wouldn’t expect (like choir practise) can make you feel faint after a blood donations, so look after yourself. Monitor your wellbeing after the donation and call the blood bank if anything feels wrong or you get sick within a few days. 


Does it hurt?

There are two parts of the donation process which have the potential to be painful: the finger prick haemoglobin test and inserting the needle. Some people say the finger prick is the worst bit but for me it’s just a quick sting. Inserting the needle feels like a hard pinch and might be a little bit uncomfortable at times but it shouldn’t be particularly painful – if it is, let one of the nurses know.


What if I faint?

Firstly, fainting isn’t especially common during blood donation. If you do faint during your donation, you are surrounded by trained medical professionals who are looking out for signs of faintness and know exactly what to do. It’s pretty much the best place in the world to faint. Once you’re feeling better, the donor centre staff will assess whether or not you should continue to donate blood.


Are there restrictions on who can give blood?

Yes, there are some restrictions. Here are the main ones.

You may not be able to give blood if you:

• are under 16 or over 70 years of age (existing donors can keep donating until they’re 81),

• weigh less than 50 kg or more than 120 kg,

• have had a tattoo in the last 6 months,

• have recently had a piercing,

• are pregnant of have recently given birth,

• have lived in the UK for a total of 6 months of more between 1 Jan 1980 and 31 Dec 1996 (this is related to mad cow disease),

• have recently engaged in ‘risky’ sexual activity (this includes oral or anal sex between men – I’m not a huge fan of this rule but the Red Cross provides a detailed explanation of their reasons here),

• have injected recreational drugs, or

• have travelled outside Australia before the donation.

If any of these things apply to you, it’s best to check with your local donor centre rather than giving up right now, based purely on something some woman wrote on the internet. For more details or to check other eligibility requirements, check here.


Pro tips for a successful blood donation:

Drink the recommended 2-3 glasses of water and eat a decent meal before your donation – it will give you energy for the donation and help to prevent faintness.

Pee when you arrive – between filling in the paperwork (it’s not too much, don’t worry), having the health interview, and the actual blood giving process, you might not get a chance to relieve yourself of all that water you just drank.

Get a blood buddy and book your appointments together. It makes you more likely to keep up with donations and gives you somebody to chat with while you have your snacks afterwards.

Bring a book or something to do while you give blood.

Allow more time if it’s your first time – you’ll have a bit of extra paperwork to fill in and the nurses will want to make extra sure you’re feeling well before you leave so it might take a bit longer.

Avoid busy times – if you can, avoid the lunchtime and after work rushes. You’re more likely to complete your donation quickly and the nurses will have more time with you.

Rebook if you’re sick – you need to be feeling healthy and well on the day you donate.

Bigger centres tend to have better food and drinks – bigger donation centres can have the best food selections, whereas donor mobiles (donor centres that come to town every few months) tend to be less extravagant. Think sausage rolls and milkshakes vs those waxy cheese wedges that come in foil and tea (still free food though!).

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