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Alberta Blood Transfusion Information

For Babies

​​​​​​​​​​What is a blood transfusion?

  • A blood transfusion is when a baby gets a blood product. The blood is usually given through an intravenous (IV).  An IV is a small tube or needle that is put into a vein.
  • A blood transfusion is usually given over four hours, but can be given faster if needed.
  • Your baby will not feel any different during a blood transfusion.
  • Doctors or nurse practitioners can order blood transfusions.

Why does my baby need a blood transfusion?

Your doctor will tell you why your baby needs a blood transfusion. Sometimes babies need a blood transfusion because they have anemia (less red blood cells than normal).

Babies can have anemia if they:
  • are born early (premature)
  • have a medical problem
  • have had lots of blood tests
  • have lost blood during an operation​​

What blood products can be transfused?

Your baby will only get the part of the blood that is needed. The different parts of blood that can be transfused are:

Red Blood Cells

  • Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. All of the organs in the body (especially the heart, brain, and kidney) need oxygen to work properly.


  • Platelets are small, sticky cells that make plugs on walls of vessels. This helps to prevent and/or stop bleeding.


  • Plasma is the clear, liquid part of the blood that has proteins in it.  These proteins help the blood to clot. Plasma can be given with platelets to prevent and/or stop bleeding.

Blood Products Made From Plasma

Plasma can be used to make products to:
  • treat certain illnesses (e.g., factors for hemophilia)
  • help fight infections (e.g., immunoglobulins)

Where does the blood come from?

  • In Alberta, Canadian Blood Services (CBS) collects blood from healthy, volunteer donors. All donors are asked questions about health, travel, and social history before blood is collected. This is to make sure that the blood is as safe as possible.
  • The blood that is donated is tested for different diseases. If there is a problem, the donor is not allowed to give blood again. Blood that does not pass testing is thrown away.
  • After the blood is tested, it is separated into all of the different parts (e.g., red blood cells, platelets).
  • When a blood product is needed, a sample is collected from the person that needs the transfusion. Tests are done on the blood. This is to make sure that the person’s blood will match with the donated blood.

Are there risks when getting a blood transfusion?

The blood supply in Canada is one of the safest in the world. Getting blood always has some risk. The risk of getting different diseases for each unit of blood is:
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) - 1 in 21 million
  • Hepatitis C - 1 in 13 million
  • Hepatitis B - 1 in 1.7 million
  • West Nile virus - less tha​n 1 in 1 million

Can my baby have a transfusion reaction?

Sometimes your baby can have a reaction to a blood transfusion. Your baby will be checked (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate, breathing) often during the transfusion. Some kinds of reactions are:

Allergic Reaction

  • This reaction is common. It is usually mild. It can cause itching and/or a rash. Allergic reactions are treated by the doctor. Very bad allergic reactions (e.g., breathing problems) are rare. If your baby has ever had an allergic reaction with a transfusion before, tell your baby’s doctor. This is to try to prevent a reaction from happening again.

Fever Reaction

  • This reaction is not common. It usually happens during or shortly after a transfusion. This kind of reaction can cause fever, chills and/or flushing. If your baby has ever had a fever reaction with a transfusion before, tell your baby’s doctor. This is to try to prevent a reaction from happening again.

Hemolytic Reaction

  • This reaction is rare. It can be very bad and sometimes very dangerous. It happens when the baby’s blood attacks the transfused blood. There are steps taken (e.g., blood testing, preparing blood) to make sure that the chance of this kind of reaction is low.

Can my baby get blood from a family member?

Directed Donation is when someone donates blood to be given to a specific person (e.g., a parent donating blood for a child under the age of 18 is the only time this is done in Canada). Directed donation is not always possible, and is not considered safer than regular blood donations. Someone that wants to donate blood for a baby must meet the same standards as other blood donors. Your doctor can help you decide if a directed donation is appropriate.

If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your doctor (or whoever ordered your blood component).​​​​

Current as of: June 15, 2018

Author: Transfusion Medicine Safety Program, Alberta Health Services