Like oxygen and water, we all need blood to live our best lives. But unlike oxygen and water, which are in abundance everywhere, blood is much rarer and this scarcity affects people with medical conditions who require blood or blood products regularly.

This is where blood donations come in.

We're going to dive into the ins and outs of donating blood, how it all works, and the benefits you and those who need blood will get from this life-saving process.


Give me the rundown about donating blood

There are four different blood groups - A, B, AB, and O, and each type is either Rh-positive or Rh-negative. Aside from O negative blood, which can be given to anybody if necessary, it is preferable to give patients blood from the same group as their own to prevent dangerous reactions.

Now the big issue with blood is that red blood cells only last 42 days from when it is donated, which is why there's such high demand for blood donations. In fact, Australia needs over 1.7 million donations every year and New Zealand needs over 4,000 donations every week to meet demand.

Who can donate blood?

Generally speaking most people aged between 18-75 can donate blood. Head over to the Red Cross blood and plasma eligibility quiz here or the NZ Blood eligibility quiz here to see if you're eligible to donate blood.

As of July 22, 2022, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has lifted the 22-year 'mad cow' ban and approved Red Cross Lifeblood to start receiving blood donations from those previously who were ineligible (i.e people who lived in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996 for six months or more).

For context on the now-lifted ban, an outbreak of mad cow disease in the United Kingdom back in the 1980s and 1990s prompted Australia to ban blood donations from potentially affected people in December 2000. Now that the ban has been lifted, those who couldn't donate blood under the 'mad cow ban' are finally eligible.

Sweet, so how does donating blood work?

It's quite simple and safe! Just find a blood donor centre here or at NZ Blood here, and the staff will sort out everything and answer any questions you may have. The actual process involves you being seated, a needle stuck into a vein into your arm, and a bit of waiting as you recover. Donating blood takes only about 10 minutes but allow for at least 1 to 2 hours for the whole process as it includes meeting with a friendly staff member, recovery time, and free refreshments.

You'll give around 470ml of whole blood for each regular donation, which is about 8% of the average adult's blood volume. Don't worry, your body will replace this volume within 24 to 48 hours and your red blood cells will be replenished in 10 to 12 weeks.

Since blood is made up of different important elements - like red blood cells, plasma, and platelets - there are actually a few different types of blood donation that you can participate in:

  • Blood - The standard donation that consists of plasma, red and white blood cells, platelets, antibodies and other components.

  • Plasma - This is separated from the other blood components by a special machine and the red blood cells are returned to the donor.

  • Platelets - Similar to the plasma donation, except that the red blood cells and plasma are returned to the donor.

Once your blood is donated and you're given some free snacks, your donation is carefully packed and sent to a processing centre. Here your donated blood is tested to make sure it is safe for a patient. Once it's given the all clear, your donated blood is processed and separated into its individual elements (red blood cells, plasma, platelets etc) before being sent out to hospitals.

You can donate blood every 12 weeks, but if you're keen to do more you can donate plasma every two weeks.

The needle in the arm, does it hurt?

If you don't like needles then you probably won't enjoy the blood donating process, but it's no more painful than pinching the inside of your elbow tightly.

Well, what can I do after donating blood?

While it’s tempting to rush to the refreshments table or back to work after donating blood, it’s important to just rest for a few minutes before doing anything. Head to the refreshments area and enjoy a snack when you’re ready, and grab a treat on your way out.

In the next 12 hours or so, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, avoid alcoholic drinks, eat regular meals, and avoid any strenuous activity or exercise. Generally speaking, most people will feel fine after donating blood and can continue their regular daily activity, such as work and chores, but if you’re feeling unwell at any point, make sure to head home and rest instead. If you’re not sure if this applies to your job, check with your manager, donate outside of work hours, or bring it up with the staff at your pre-donation interview.

You can chat to Sonder if you’re not feeling 100% after donating blood - our team can then refer you to appropriate support if needed.

Okay, so what are the benefits of donating blood?

There are many benefits of donating blood that heavily outweigh the fear of needles.

Your donated blood will go a long way in helping patients with blood-related medical conditions, as one donation can save up to three lives. Donated blood will not only go to patients, but it is also used for medical research into new treatments for life-threatening blood-related conditions.

As for donors, there's definitely a sense of satisfaction in knowing that you're doing something altruistic and important for other people. And given how you need to be in good physical condition to donate blood, getting healthy so that you're eligible for a donation is beneficial to your mental and physical wellbeing as well.


If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime, in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: ABC, Better Health, Lifeblood, NZ Blood, and WHO.

Image credit: The Office

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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