What to Expect When Getting Blood Drawn
It’s rare to find someone who actually enjoys getting their blood drawn – it tends to be a less-than-thrilling procedure. Still, obtaining a blood sample is quite common and very necessary in medical offices during both routine check-ups and diagnostic visits. There are ways to minimize the associated stress. If your child is due for an annual exam, they might need to get blood work done; let’s talk about ways to prepare them for the procedure and help them get through it in a calm and positive manner.
Know the Basics
The 25-cent word for blood draws is venipuncture, and it is an important step in diagnosing many conditions, as well as making sure that your overall health is in good condition. Routine blood draws give doctors information about a patient’s white and red blood cell count, metabolic make-up like sodium and potassium levels, cholesterol levels, and organ function.
If your pediatrician does not give you instructions about fasting, ask if your child needs to refrain from eating for some time before the procedure. Tip: if they do need to fast, try to schedule the appointment as early in the day as possible – this way, your kiddo won’t have to go hungry (and ‘hangry’) throughout the day.
The blood draw procedure is simple:
- The child sits in a chair or lays down.
- The phlebotomist technician, or person who takes the blood, will look at their arms and hands to find a vein that is most visible and easy to find. Usually, this will be the spot just inside the elbow, but it could also be on the top of the hand. It is sometimes necessary to tap the vein to make it stand out.
- The area will be cleaned with either alcohol or betadine (brown soap) or other cleaning solution.
- A stretchy band, called a tourniquet, will be tied around the child’s arm to increase the blood flow, make the vein pop out more, and make it easier to insert the needle.
- Sometimes, a cold freezy spray will be applied prior to the stick to help numb the skin. A “buzzy” device that vibrates on the skin can also be an effective way to decrease discomfort.
- A one-time-use sterile needle attached to a small tube will be inserted into the vein, and the blood will be collected into the tube. This can take anywhere from a few seconds to about a minute.
- Once the draw is completed, the technician will press a cotton swab or gauze to the pierced area, pull out the needle, and place a bandage over the area. Pressure should be applied to stop the bleeding.
All done! The whole procedure usually takes just a couple minutes, and the blood is usually sent to a lab for analysis. Many babies and children have small vessels, so there is a chance that another attempt may be necessary if the first one isn’t successful. Of course, blood draws can still be daunting to young patients. Let’s talk about some tips to put them at ease before and during the appointment.
Preparation: Less is More
The key to making this experience positive for children involves some creative messaging. More often than not, the anticipation and lead-up to getting blood drawn is scarier than the actual procedure. So, while you do want to let your child know that they are going in for a visit with the pediatrician, you might not want to alert them to the idea of the procedure too far in advance. Giving them more time to ruminate on it might cause them to get more nervous.
When telling your child about the upcoming appointment, use a clear and positive tone, highlighting the benefits of self-care, showing excitement and pride. Answer any questions they may have calmly and truthfully, but do omit details that may scare them.
Support in the Moment
Especially if your child feels nervous about getting their blood drawn, you can be a great source of comfort during the procedure. Here are some ways to support them during the procedure:
- Distract them with cheery, engaging conversation.
- Offer to hold the hand that is not getting the blood draw; encourage them to squeeze something. (The arm where the needle is going in should be as relaxed as possible.)
- Note the spot where the vein is most accessible and help your child remember it. This will allow them to have more agency the next time they are getting blood drawn because they will be able to help the technician find the vein.
- Offer praise for being brave and let your child know how proud you are of them for taking care of their health. This supports lifetime habits of self-care and a positive relationship with healthcare.
- I never disagree with offering a treat afterwards!
After the Blood Draw
Sometimes, a bruise will form on the spot where the needle was inserted. This is perfectly normal and not always an indication of a poorly done blood draw. It is also not a reason to worry. As long as the bandage stays on long enough for the bleeding to stop, the risk of infection or other complications is negligible.
Depending on your pediatrician’s office set-up, you may get your child’s results back the same day or a few days later. When you do, make sure to read through the analysis and reach out to the doctor with any questions you have. It is also a great idea to review the results with your child to get them in the habit of being agents of their own health.