Can I Donate Blood While Breastfeeding?

A woman donating blood

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Donating blood is a wonderfully altruistic deed you can do for your community. Blood and platelets have numerous vital medical uses, such as in the treatment of traumatic injuries, cancer, and chronic illnesses. Giving blood allows doctors to provide essential care. Each blood donation has the potential to saves lives—and donors are always in demand.

Breastfeeding parents who want to help their fellow neighbors by donating blood may wonder if it's safe for them to do so. The answer is unclear. There is limited research on the safety of donating blood while nursing your baby and mixed (or absent) recommendations from experts. Some doctors, researchers, and organizations give the go-ahead to donate blood while breastfeeding once certain criteria are met, while others advise waiting until your baby is weaned.

According to the American Red Cross, individuals who have given birth should wait at least six weeks after childbirth before donating blood, including nursing parents. However, there is a lack of direct instruction in their eligibility requirements on exactly how breastfeeding may impact giving blood. Additionally, few studies look directly at how giving blood impacts breastfeeding parents. That said, you'll find some experts suggest waiting until weaning while others do not.

"Yes, it is okay for a breastfeeding mother to donate blood," says lactation consultant Lisa Miller, MA, IBCLC. However, Miller adds that the caveat is nursing parents should wait to donate until they are released from their doctor's care, which is usually between six and eight weeks postpartum. Here's what you need to know about donating blood while breastfeeding.

Donating Blood While Breastfeeding

According to the American Red Cross, 30 people per minute need blood in the United States. Ready access to that life-saving blood is essential for optimal health care to be provided to those who need it, and the entire system depends on the generosity of healthy individuals who donate their blood. So, if your doctor approves and your health makes you an ideal donor, even while breastfeeding, then it may be an excellent gift you can give to your community. However, be sure to confirm with your doctor.

"It's safe to donate while breastfeeding at six weeks after birth or later," concurs Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins, MD, MPH, a board-certified OBGYN and member of the Lansinoh Clinical Advisory Network. "If you wait until after weaning, there's no waiting period." Dr. Calloway points out, however, that you need to be fully recovered from childbirth and in optimal health. This is to ensure that the blood donation does not put undo strain on your body as it is already taxed with the extra job of producing breast milk.

Also, donating blood is contraindicated if you're anemic. "Anemia is common after birth and enough time needs to have passed such that the mom's anemia is resolved," says Dr. Rankins.

Potential Side Effects

There are a few risks associated with blood donation (in general or while breastfeeding), including the potential for discomfort, bruising, and/or redness at the injection site. Sterile needles are used to draw blood so there is no risk of contracting a disease from the needle.

Some blood donors experience dizziness, nausea, light-headedness, fainting, falling, and/or nausea after donation, particularly if they haven't eaten or get up too quickly. This is why donors are served a drink, snack, or cookie and asked to sit for a while post-donation. Possible side effects are rare and are not significantly heightened for breastfeeding parents, says Dr. Rankins.

More unusual complications include the risk of infection and/or pain or numbness of the arm. Measures are taken to prevent these issues, such as sanitizing the skin pre-blood draw. In extremely rare cases, an air bubble can form, blocking the flow of the blood vessel.

If you have any concerns about blood donation side effects, reach out to a healthcare provider or the American Red Cross.

Benefits of Donating Blood While Breastfeeding

There are some benefits of donating blood for breastfeeding mothers (and the general population). Critically, it gives you the chance to save three lives, says Jennifer Abdul-Rahman, BSN, RN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant at Latched Eternal Lactation Consulting in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.

"Blood donation, in general, is important. Blood is often in short supply and when critical low levels hit, the community is adversely affected," explains Abdul-Rahman.

Remember that even though it may be OK generally when cleared by your doctor, blood donation while breastfeeding may not be okay for each person and some studies, doctors, and medical organizations do advise waiting. "Each person should consider their personal circumstances, their goals, and their child's need for human milk," advises Abdul-Rahman.

Safety Precautions for Donating Blood While Breastfeeding

While many healthy breastfeeding parents may be able to safely donate blood, it's important to note that breastfeeding does tax the body, requiring extra nutrients and rest. So, if your body feels wiped out from caring for and feeding your little one (which is a lot of work!), you may want to wait until you feel that you have more energy to spare. Plus, you can always just donate once you stop breastfeeding. Additionally, your doctor can evaluate if blood donation is a safe option for you.

However, if you're feeling well and enthusiastic about donating, and your healthcare provider has cleared you, you can choose to do so. Here are some general safety precautions to consider.

General Health

In order to donate blood while breastfeeding, you must be otherwise eligible to donate. Essentially this means you are a healthy adult without infections or chronic illness, says Abdul-Rahman.

Postpartum Healing

Additionally, you need to be fully recovered from childbirth and cleared by your healthcare provider to donate, says Miller. This is usually a minimum of six weeks postpartum, but recovery may take significantly longer for some people. If you donated blood prior to pregnancy and your health has otherwise remained the same, you may be able do it while breastfeeding.

"The American Red Cross permits blood donation at six weeks after birth or later for breastfeeding moms. In other countries, the recommendation is longer—as long as six or nine months," says Dr. Rankins. So, be sure to check in with your provider on what timing is right for you.

Anemia

If the donor is anemic, had a blood transfusion, or had a postpartum hemorrhage this would limit their ability to donate. For this reason, iron levels are assessed at blood donation collection sites to ensure that the donor is not anemic, explains Miller. "Women with low iron levels would be ineligible to donate." 

Milk Supply

Sometimes, donating blood may cause a reduction in milk supply for a few days, says Abdul-Rahman. So, it's important to wait until your milk supply is well-established and you have a supplemental supply of breast milk on hand if needed.

"Once their milk supply is established, they should consider what it might mean for them and their baby if they have a dip after a donation," advises Abdul-Rahman. Questions to consider include: Do you have pumped milk in the freezer just in case? Does your baby take expressed milk or a bottle? Will a dip greatly or barely affect your baby? If you aren't sure, your baby's pediatrician and your own healthcare provider can help you decide what's right for you.

Hydration

Breastfeeding parents need to take care that they are well-hydrated before and after donating blood, Miller advises. This will limit the impact on their milk supply. "Fluid loss with blood donation could temporarily decrease milk supply, but drinking plenty of fluids the day before, the day of, and the day after blood donation should decrease this risk," explains Miller.

Note that your baby may breastfeed more often for a few days following blood donation, similar to cluster feeding that occurs during infant growth spurts, says Miller.

Lethargy

Lethargy or fatigue after donation or a sore or bruised arm may make it difficult to hold the baby, notes Abdul-Rahman. These impacts, if they occur at all, should not last long. However, it can be helpful to have someone else available to care for your baby in the hours after donating.

A Word From Verywell

Experts are mixed and study data is limited on the safety of blood donation while nursing. However, many doctors and lactation consultants do support blood donation while breastfeeding on a case-by-case basis for healthy individuals. Be sure to get your doctor's approval and wait a minimum of six weeks postpartum before you begin donating.

If you feel at all unsure about giving blood in the early stages of breastfeeding but still want to donate, you can always delay a bit longer. It's especially important to wait if you feel your body needs more recuperation time after childbirth to handle the strain of giving blood. Drinking plenty of fluids and giving your body extra rest, notes Dr. Rankins, will minimize the risk of any health or breast milk supply issues after donating.

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7 Sources
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