How to give the best blood donation of your life

I love to give blood.

When I first started donating blood in my early 30s, it was an easy-breezy experience.

I found it quick and nearly painless. I enjoyed chatting with the Red Cross staffers. I felt great about giving back and helping to save lives.

Honestly, after my first blood donation experience, it was a no-brainer for me. I became a regular donor.

Over the years, however, my blood donation experience changed. It seemed like for some reason, my veins became harder to find. No one ever told me why this might have happened – or what I could do about it.

I had my first truly bad donation experience at a blood drive at the kiddo’s school in 2016 or so. It was no fun; I ended up sore and badly bruised. It made me want to take a break from donating – especially because no one could tell me what had gone wrong or why it had happened.

You might think that was my last ever attempt at donating, but it was not.

You see, The American Red Cross sent me some information letting me know that I have a fairly rare blood type – CMV negative – which is special for a very important reason.

The tiniest hospital patients – premature and very ill babies – can only receive CMV negative blood like mine. And only 15% of adults are CMV negative!

Finding out that my blood goes straight to babies in need made me want to keep donating even if it might be a rough experience. I certainly didn’t give blood as often as I did when it was easy, but I did keep giving.

Little by little though, I’ve given less often. It’s just no fun anymore. This year, 2021, I’ve only given blood one time. That’s because the last time I tried to donate, I had another really frustrating experience where it was painful AND they weren’t able to get a full donation from me.

Still, the Red Cross continues to send me information letting me know the babies need my blood. It’s a great marketing tactic on their part. I just can’t stand thinking about those poor premature and sick babies – let alone their worried and anxious mamas. Giving blood to help them is the least I can do.

So I made an appointment to donate this week. I also got online to google tips for how to have a good blood donation.

I figured there had to be something I could do – and I was right! Here are the tips I found that worked for me and helped me to have my best blood donation ever today.

1. Limit caffeine and increase water intake for two to three days prior to the donation. It turns out that being dehydrated can make it hard to find your veins AND make it hard for them to get enough blood to flow for a donation. I was pretty confident this is a big factor in why my recent blood donations had been so hard, so I made a conscious effort to drink water instead of anything with caffeine for two or three days prior to my donation. It worked like a charm!

2. Keep your veins warm just prior to your donation. I read this tip on a phlebotomy website in an article about how to find difficult veins. I dressed in layers and really bundled up so my arms were nice and warm going into my blood donation. I don’t know if this helped or not, but I certainly had a great donation experience so I’m a fan of warm arms now!

3. Be well rested and eat well. This is just good basic self-care, but it makes sense to get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy meal and in general just take good overall care of yourself before you ask your body to give up some of the red stuff. Donating blood is a sacrifice – a very worthwhile one, of course, but a sacrifice nonetheless. So give yourself some extra love and pampering!

4. Eat salty snacks the night before your donation. I don’t know the science behind this one, but I read this tip and immediately thought “chips and salsa!” I mean, does anyone really need a reason to eat chips and salsa? I sure don’t. It’s always chips and salsa time. And again, I had a great donation so who knows if this is why.

My best blood donation ever

When I walked into my donation appointment today, I was feeling good. I felt strong, hopeful and confident that I would have a good donation. I asked the Red Cross staffer to please put me with the absolute best vein-finder they have because I am a known hard-stick.

We went through all the usual prep and paperwork, then the staffer began to examine and press on my arms to find the best vein candidate possible. They looked at my left arm, didn’t find much, then switched to my right arm (the colorful, tattooed one!). Instantly, he found something he could use.

Within moments, he stuck me one time, very smoothly, and we were off. My blood flowed freely just as it should. I was able to finish donating within 20 minutes which is an all-time record for me. Drinking all that water obviously paid off! I am so relieved – I feel like these veins are back in business.

If you plan to donate, drink a ton of water before your donation, ask for the best person they have working, and simply relax.

And if you want to know if you have CMV-negative blood so you can donate for the babies, just call the Red Cross and make a donation. They will tell you soon after your donation if you are.

Even if you’re afraid to give blood, you still should. Just do it for the babies.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat, snake and guinea pig mom. Travel nut. Writer since birth. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.

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