Among the many (many) side effects you experience during pregnancy, a desire to do more good may be one of them. You want the world to be a better place for your offspring, so some altruism seems to be in order. In your quest to contribute to a greater cause, you might wonder, Can you donate blood while pregnant? After all, blood volume increases significantly during pregnancy. Why not take advantage of that extra supply in a way that might help others? Well, don't head to the blood drive just yet.
Pregnancy can be one of the most joyful and beautiful times of your life — but simultaneously super nerve-racking simply because there's so much information out there. Between pregnancy books, family and friends' opinions, and helpful articles like these, you may feel a little overwhelmed trying to determine fact from fiction. From decorating the nursery and planning a baby shower to taking maternity photos and brainstorming baby names, your things-to-do-while-expecting list is probably growing by the minute. Relish in it because for every fun activity, there's one under the off-limits list, unfortunately. Among the obvious no-can-dos for pregnant people are alcohol (RIP to your favorite cocktail), sushi (so long, salmon roll), excess caffeine (so very tired), and strenuous exercise (OK, this one's not the worst).
You'll also need to add donating blood to this list. Keep reading to learn why it's unsafe and when pregnant people are eligible to donate blood after giving birth.
Can you donate blood while pregnant?
According to the American Red Cross's eligibility requirements, pregnant people are not eligible to donate blood. Doing so can negatively impact your health and your baby's, too. Consequently, if you think you may be pregnant, you should hold off on donating blood for the time being as well.
This is especially important because blood centers do not test for pregnancy. The most they may ask a donor is for their medical history, if they’ve traveled recently or if you’re on any specific medications. Apart from that, they don't inquire about pregnancy, so it's essential to pay attention to your body in that regard before donating, as it could be dangerous for you and the baby.
Why is it unsafe to donate blood while pregnant?
Donating blood decreases iron, and low iron can lead to anemia (a low count of healthy red blood cells). A drop in iron is particularly problematic for those who are pregnant since they're considered at high risk for iron-deficiency anemia. That's why pregnant people cannot donate, explains Dr. Janelle Mary Jackman, MD, FACOG, a board-certified OB-GYN and minimally invasive reproductive surgeon at Kindbody in Silicon Valley. Iron-deficiency anemia results from your body not producing enough iron, per The Office on Women's Health (OWH), which also lists iron-deficiency anemia as the most common anemia type.
Jackman explains that iron is paramount in keeping you and your baby healthy and safe during pregnancy. "Iron is found in hemoglobin, and hemoglobin is vital because it transports oxygen to all parts of the body, including the placenta, where oxygen then diffuses into the baby's blood," she says. "If iron is low, iron-deficiency anemia may result. This leads to low oxygen transportation throughout the body as well as possible preterm birth and low birth weight." Furthermore, Jackman adds that iron is important for fetal development, supports placental growth, and increases the pregnant person's red blood cells.
It's crucial to note that iron-deficiency anemia isn't uncommon — it's actually an expected occurrence during pregnancy. "As pregnancy progresses, iron-deficiency anemia is expected because the plasma or liquid component in blood rises faster than the red blood cells, leading to a physiological anemia in pregnancy," Jackman states. Thus, it's normal for pregnant people to increase their iron intake by 350 to 500 mL to avoid or correct this, she adds.
In any case, always speak with your OB-GYN about any iron deficiency or anemia concerns you may have. Your doctor can closely monitor your and your baby's health and provide information specific to you.
How soon can you donate blood once giving birth?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. According to the American Red Cross, you aren't eligible to donate blood until six weeks after giving birth; however, Jackman strongly recommends waiting several months before donating blood. "I advise waiting at least six to nine months to donate blood because, during delivery, there's usually a great loss of blood (this is normal), and breastmilk relies on iron," she explains. "The ideal time to donate blood would be three months after weaning the baby from breastmilk."
Before you donate blood, it's best to speak with your doctor and go over any underlying conditions you may have.
It is also important to donate blood responsibility, which means waiting at least 16 weeks between donations, according to the American Red Cross. Generally, people can only donate six times a year, which is about every 56 days. Participants must be in a healthy state, which is contingent upon the red cell and plasma limit guidelines. And if donors don’t feel OK on the day of their donation, they’re encouraged to reschedule. In most states, the age requirement is 16 or older, and participants must weigh at least 110 pounds.
Does donating blood hurt fertility?
According to the Canadian Blood Services, donating blood prior to pregnancy does not affect your ability to conceive or impact fertility. People who’ve donated before their pregnancy compared to those who haven’t are not at a greater disadvantage when it comes to conceiving a child.
Can you donate plasma while pregnant?
Also, if you were wondering: Plasma donation is not recommended during pregnancy and is usually not accepted by blood banks due to possible risks.
"There are antigens called human leukocyte antigens (HLA), which are attached to most of the cells in the body," Jackman tells Scary Mommy. "The baby gets half this antigen from mom (via the egg) and half from dad (via the sperm). The mom may make antibodies against the HLA it doesn't recognize from the dad if exposed to the baby's blood." Should the pregnant person donate plasma, Jackman continues, these antibodies can cause a dangerous transfusion reaction that can injure the recipient of the donated plasma.
Bottom line: You are ineligible to donate blood and plasma while pregnant.
Dr. Janelle Mary Jackman, Board-certified OB-GYN
This article was originally published on 4.19.2022
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