Are You Interested in Donating Plasma? Here Are Some Tips To Make Your Donation Smoother

Keara Lou
Breakfast at the Avenue Cafe in Las VegasPhoto by Keara Lou

One of the more interesting changes I experienced since the pandemic is becoming an avid plasma donor. It’s extra money, and I get spare time to read a book or two.

Don’t get your hopes up about me doing it out of the goodness of my heart. It’s fantastic knowing I’m helping save lives, but I’m honestly doing it for a little extra money. I see it as more of an obscure side-hustle than anything else. And it’s helpful if I know I’m having a poor writing month. 

I haven’t been donating plasma for very long, but I still learned some things to make my donations smoother. You’d be surprised at how small changes can help your donation experience. 

First Change: Add more water to your daily routine

You’d be surprised at the difference water makes when donating plasma. You don't have to cut caffeine from your everyday diet completely, but cutting it down will help make plasma donations smoother.

Getting enough water can be the difference between a smooth donation and a donation where your arm doesn't stop vibrating. When your veins aren't full enough, it makes a vibrating sensation in your arm. It also makes it difficult for the phlebotomist to find your vein.

Plasma is 90% water. When you donate plasma, you're giving water and vital nutrients you need to stay healthy. Side-effects are usually minor, but it'll take longer for you to recover from your donation if you don't drink more. Water is the difference between feeling great and feeling tired after a donation.

Second Change: Update your diet

When you donate plasma, your blood needs testing before they hook you up to a machine. The phlebotomists need to make sure you have enough protein and iron to donate safely. If you don't have enough of either nutrient in your blood, they will turn you away.

So far, I got turned away three times. The first and second times I got turned away were for not having enough protein in my blood. On the third time I got turned away, I didn't have enough iron in my blood.

You don't have to make drastic changes to your diet, but you need to be more mindful about what you eat at least three hours before donating. You don't have to eat a large meal, but you should check the protein and iron labels before cooking.

Eggs, tofu, chicken, and almonds are great examples of protein-rich foods. Shellfish, spinach, and pumpkin seeds are rich in iron. Make sure you're drinking water when you eat these foods so your body can absorb all of the nutrients it needs!

Ladies, we lose iron once a month, compared to our male counterparts. We can still donate during our periods, but getting the iron up will be a higher priority than protein. It's more important than ever to get our iron up on those days.

Try to avoid fatty foods. Avocado and eggs are fine because they're good fats. Foods like pizza and burgers can negatively affect plasma health. Overeating these foods before a donation can render your plasma useless.

Change Three: Cut back on caffeine and avoid alcohol before and after donation

What do alcohol and caffeine have in common? They both dehydrate you, making it harder for your body to soak up the nutrients from your meals. Most plasma centers recommend cutting back on your coffee and tea and avoiding alcohol 24 hours before and after your donation.

Change Four: Talk To Your Phlebotomist

Is it your first time donating? Do you get nervous around needles? Do your veins like to roll every time you donate? Did you forget to eat or drink some water before you came to the center? Make sure you talk to your phlebotomist before they hook you up to the machine.

BioLife has a unique red dot system for problematic veins. The red dot makes sure an experienced phlebotomist helps you. Someone can also talk to you about how the process works to calm your nerves. The center will make sure someone experienced helps you if it's your first time donating, too.

In my first donation, I didn't tell the phlebotomist it was my first time. I the middle of the donation, they switched arms on me. When I asked if it was normal, they realized it was my first time. They spent the rest of the donation making sure I was okay. Had I spoken up, I would've received a tag letting them know it was the first time I ever donated.

And don't worry, if something goes wrong and they can't get a vein after they put the needle in, you'll still get paid for your efforts. The only time you wouldn't get paid would be if you got turned away at the protein and iron tests.

Change Five: Bring Something To Pass The Time

Most plasma donations take about an hour. If it's your first time, you'll be there for at least two and a half hours. You pump, and then they give red blood cells back to you. It can get boring if you don't have anything else to do in the meantime.

Every donation day, I make a point to bring a book with me. All of the books I read this year I read while donating plasma. My library loves having me around now. If reading isn't your thing, you can play games on your phone. I know one person who works on their Spanish while they're donating!

Change 6: Dress Warm, But Keep Yourself Comfortable

This piece of advice sounds tricky when you first hear it. Sometimes, the centers get cold. The center also gives you saline when finished. The saline feels like you dipped your arm in a bucket of ice water.

As much as you want to wear a tight sweater, don't. The blood pressure cuffs need to touch bare skin. And having it squeeze against your shirt can make the experience super uncomfortable. A loose-fitting T-shirt with either a blanket or a sweater draped over your shoulders can work wonders for you if you get cold easily.

Final Thoughts

Donating plasma isn't a get-rich-quick scheme, but it does give a little extra cash. It's also an unique way to monitor your health. I started looking at my food instead of basing my food choices on calorie count only.

Since making these changes, I notice a difference in my donation experience. If the phlebotomists have a difficulty with me, I immediately start thinking back to how much water I drank the night before. I also make sure to have a healthy breakfast and protein shake to get the nutrients I need before sitting through a donation.

BioLife is doing a promotion right now that gives first-time donors $1,000! If there is any time to dip your toes into plasma donation, this is it!

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I'm a Forever Middle-Child who doesn't have the ability to sit still. I often write about travel, relationships, life, books, food, humor, and life as a fat woman. Women's issues are a passion of mine too. I often write a lot of opinion pieces about what's going on in the world with a little touch of politics. I'll write about anything that comes to mind.

Beaverton, MI

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