If you were a regular blood or plasma donor before having a baby, you may be wondering whether you can start donating again after birth and when you’re able to do so. You may already know that plasma donation is not recommended for pregnant women, so you may also be wondering whether donating plasma is safe for breastfeeding mothers and if it can affect their breastmilk composition or their milk supply.
What is plasma?
Plasma is the largest component of human blood. It has a very important role of carrying blood cells, nutrients, hormones, and proteins throughout the entire body.
It not only helps to maintain blood pressure and blood volume, but it also supports cell function and health.
In medical settings, plasma is often separated for the use in treatments such as blood transfusions, especially for patients with certain medical conditions such as clotting disorders.
What is the difference between donating blood and donating plasma?
Donating whole blood and donating plasma serve different purposes and cater to different medical needs.
Whole blood donation
Whole blood donation involves donating a complete blood unit, which is later separated into its components, including red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Blood donation is crucial for general transfusion requirements such as surgeries and acute blood loss treatment.
Plasma donation, which is also known as plasmapheresis, specifically targets the liquid part of the blood that houses vital proteins and antibodies. Plasma is often used in the creation of therapies for chronic conditions, including immune deficiencies and bleeding disorders.
The process of plasma donation allows for more frequent donation intervals compared to whole blood, as the body replenishes plasma much faster than whole blood.
Why do people donate plasma?
People choose to donate plasma for many different reasons.
To help save a life
Plasma is a vital component of blood, and it plays a very important role in medical treatments, including the management of chronic conditions, emergency trauma therapies, and complex surgeries. Donating plasma directly contributes to life-saving blood transfusions and the creation of essential medical products.
For financial gain
Sometimes, people do it for some extra money which can come in very handy in times of hardship. But even if someone does it for the extra money, they are still helping people who are in great need of plasma. Not all countries pay for blood and plasma donation, be sure to check first before assuming.
Can you donate plasma while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding mothers may wonder if they can donate plasma and whether it will affect their breastmilk composition or their milk supply. There as so many different information and recommendations out there, it’s hard to know who to believe and who to trust.
Most health organizations, like the World Health Organization (WHO), advise against donating plasma at all while you’re still breastfeeding. At least until after your baby is 9 months old. This is because donating plasma may affect hydration, electrolyte levels, and ultimately a breastfeeding mom’s milk supply.
Some healthcare professionals agree that plasma donation is safe for mothers who are breastfeeding, provided certain conditions are met, such as overall health in the mother and baby and a healthy milk supply, even safer if you have excess breast milk.
Each country or even blood donation center will have their own guidelines on requirements for postpartum and breastfeeding mothers.
Women are usually advised to wait a specific period after childbirth before considering plasma donation. This waiting period ensures the mother’s body has recovered well and can handle the donation process without affecting the milk supply.
Before donating, an in-depth health screening is mandatory to check for any medical conditions that might disqualify a donor or put them at risk. There are potential risks associated with plasma donation that breastfeeding mothers should know about.
Donating plasma and the milk supply
Breastfeeding mothers who are considering donating plasma often worry about how this might affect their milk supply. While donating plasma involves the removal of blood plasma, leaving red and white blood cells and platelets to be returned to the donor, it’s important to understand that the body needs time and resources to replenish the plasma.
This might raise concerns about whether the process could potentially reduce the volume of breast milk production. It can potentially reduce the milk supply, which is why health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend against plasma donation while breastfeeding.
Maintaining hydration is key for people donating plasma, especially for breastfeeding mothers. Adequate fluid intake ensures the body can replace lost plasma and reduce the risk of a reduced milk supply.
Breastfeeding mothers should also consider their nutritional status, as the body uses more calories to produce breast milk and recover lost plasma. A balanced diet rich in iron, proteins, and vitamins helps sustain both plasma regeneration and breast milk production.
Before being able to donate plasma, breastfeeding mothers need to pass a health screening, which checks for any medical conditions that might make donation inadvisable. The eligibility criteria also help gauge whether a potential donor has adequate hemoglobin levels, ensuring the donation won’t lead to anemia, a condition that could impact milk production.
The potential risks associated with plasma donation, including dizziness and fatigue, can temporarily affect a mother’s ability to breastfeed comfortably. Resting after plasma donation is crucial to allow the body to replenish and continue producing milk effectively.
Donating blood or plasma is not recommended in the first 6 months postpartum as babies are completely dependent on breastmilk. Many will agree that waiting until after the first or second year is even better. As by then, babies will be much more established on water and complementary foods.
The donation process
The plasma donation process begins with a thorough health screening to assess the potential donors and their suitability. Donors must meet a specific donor eligibility criteria, including age, weight, and absence of certain medical conditions.
Following the screening, the actual donation takes place, the procedure that separates plasma from the blood and returns the remaining components to the donor. This process, also known as plasmapheresis, usually takes about an hour. It’s non-invasive but requires the donor to remain still for the duration.
You’ll sit down in a reclining chair and sterile needles will be placed in each arm. One needle will draw your blood and pass it through to separate the plasma, and the other needle will return the remaining blood cells and blood components to your body.
After the plasma donation, donors should rest briefly under observation. Ensuring no adverse reactions occur. This is a standard precautionary measure. Donors are encouraged to hydrate well and consume a small meal or snack to help stabilize their body after the procedure. There will often be drinks and snacks available at some plasma donation centers.
Potential donors should be in good health and free of transmissible diseases like HIV and AIDs. You can’t be a plasma donor if you have a medical condition like high blood pressure or anemia or other chronic illnesses.
Tips for when you donate plasma while breastfeeding
If you’re a breastfeeding mother considering plasma donation, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of any milk supply issues.
Consult with your healthcare provider
Consult with your healthcare provider before scheduling a donation. They can assess any medical conditions and how plasma donation might affect you and your baby.
Drinking plenty of fluids before and on the day of donation will help replace the plasma lost during donation and will support milk production.
Improve your nutrition
Focus on a healthy diet rich in iron and vitamins to help maintain your energy levels and milk supply.
Pay attention to timing
Try to schedule your donation after breastfeeding your baby. This will ensure that your baby has been fed and gives your body time to recover before the next feed.
Listen to your body
If you experience dizziness, fatigue, or any discomfort post-donation, give yourself time to rest and recover. Monitor your milk supply closely in the days following the donation. Monitor your baby’s milk intake, make sure they are getting enough milk and don’t become dehydrated as it can be extremely dangerous for young children.
Important notes on donating plasma while breastfeeding
It’s recommended to wait until after you’re done breastfeeding your baby, as donating plasma can affect your milk supply. It’s even more important to wait if you or your baby are sick or if you’re a mother of multiple and premature babies.
The most important thing new mothers can do is to ensure that they and they’re babies are in good health. The mother’s milk supply can reduce and it’s a good idea to monitor a baby closely after a plasma donation.
Everyone agrees that breastfeeding moms should wait at least 6 months after childbirth to donate plasma. This allows your body time to recover and ensures your hemoglobin and iron levels are back to normal again.
If you do decide to donate plasma while breastfeeding, make sure that you drink plenty of water, consume enough calories from nutrient dense food and breastfeed frequently. Monitor your baby for any signs of dehydration.
If you ever need any information or support related to breastfeeding, do not hesitate to contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
Always discuss anything medical with your healthcare provider so they can provide you evidence-based information and support as needed. This will help keep you, your baby and your milk supply healthy.