If you are considering donating blood for the first time and it seems a little daunting, you're far from alone — trying anything for the first time is scary when you don't know what to expect. A lot of people, for instance, wonder if it hurts to donate blood. Here's the truth: it will pinch for a second. Odds are extremely high that in your adult life you've had your blood drawn, and that is exactly how the pinch feels, except that the needle will stay in your arms for the duration of the blood collection. The one thing you should know going in, though, is that once that pinch is over and the needle settles in your arm, you really don't feel anything except possibly a dull ache. That is to say: odds are if you're psyched out about a blood donation hurting, the reality is much, much more painless than any scenario you've imagined in your head.
But because knowledge is power, and because you will be significantly less psyched out if you know exactly what you're in for, here's a bit of a rundown on what the process of blood donation will feel like.
First thing's first: if you're going to donate blood, make sure that you have at least two hours worked into your schedule. Depending on where you're donating there will probably be a wait, regardless of whether or not you have an appointment — and yes, it's annoying to have to wait for anything, but blood donation is a serious commitment, especially in times of crucial need for it. Make sure you eat a solid meal and hydrate well in advance of your donation, and that you don't take any blood-thinning medications like ibuprofen.
Once you arrive at the blood donation site, this is what's going to go down:
The Test Prick
Before you get anywhere near a needle, you're going to fill out some extensive paperwork and read through a long set of regulations that dictate who is and isn't eligible to give blood. If you pass all of these restrictions and sign the forms indicating that you do, you'll then be pulled into an area where a trained professional will sanitize your finger, then take a tiny needle and poke it to draw blood. (Word to the wise: try and offer them your non-dominant hand, in case you need it for writing later — it will only hurt for a second, but it will ache a bit if you poke it for the rest of the day.)
After that, they'll squeeze your finger to collect a few drops of blood to put it in a device that tests your iron levels. It takes about a minute for the machine to detect it; if your iron levels are too low, it puts you at risk to donate, since you'll likely feel faint afterward. If your iron levels are good to go, then you'll be approved for donation. (For advice on how to get your iron levels up, check out our article on blood donation if you have anemia.)
The Insertion Of The Needle
You'll be seated in a reclining chair, where a professional will survey the veins on the inside of both of your arms and determine which they can get the easiest access with. You can either choose to watch the needle go in or look away, depending on what you're most comfortable with — but it will truly only pinch for the second it takes to insert the needle, and then it will feel like a dull ache at worst. Most likely you will stop noticing it within a few minutes.
Immediately after the needle is inserted, blood will start funneling through the tube into a few separate vials that are used to test blood, and then eventually into a bag for donation. You will likely be given a stress ball to squeeze, in order to aid with blood flow. The actual donation process is a lot faster than you think — you'll only be sitting there for eight to 10 minutes before enough blood is collected, at which point the needle will be removed, and all the hard work's done.
The Post-Blood Donation Process
It's normal to feel a little lightheaded after donating, and you should avoid drinking alcohol, smoking, or any vigorous exercise for the day following your donation. Someone will point you over to a refreshment station, where you should hydrate and eat. After 10 to 15 minutes, you'll be free to go on your merry way.
It will take four to six weeks for the red blood cells to replenish themselves in your system, which is why people are only allowed to donate once every eight weeks — that being said, after you finish the first donation and you see how easy it is, all the ones that come after it are pretty uneventful. So go out there and go save some lives! You've really got nothing to be afraid of — it hurts for half a second, and the impact you make can save an entire life.