Blood transfusion factsheet


A blood transfusion is a life-saving procedure that replaces blood that has been lost with blood that has been donated. Blood delivers nutrients and oxygen all over the body to keep it working. 

A child might need a blood transfusion if they:

  • have lost a lot of blood during surgery or an accident
  • have an illness that affects their ability to make enough blood, like cancer or sickle cell anaemia
  • have an illness that causes their blood to break down, for example, haemolytic anaemia
  • are born prematurely (before 37 weeks of pregnancy).

Preparing for the treatment

Your doctor will talk to you and your child about blood transfusion before the procedure. If you or your child are worried about having a blood transfusion, speak to the doctor or nurse. They can give you more specific information and answer any questions.

Before the transfusion:

  • a parent or legal guardian will need to sign a consent form to give permission
  • a blood sample will be taken from your child and tested to ensure the right blood type is given.

Details on the packs of donated blood are carefully checked and matched to the details on your child’s hospital wristband by two medical staff members.

During the treatment

A thin tube called an intravenous (IV) cannula will be inserted into a vein in your child’s arm.

One pack or unit of blood will be connected to the IV cannula and hung on a pole. 

The blood will slowly pass through the tube and into your child’s vein over 1- 4 hours. Your child should not feel any pain when the blood goes in.

A nurse will check on your child regularly while the transfusion is happening. 

If your child is awake and not in surgery, you can bring in things like toys, games and books to help with distraction and entertainment during the transfusion.

After the treatment

Some children can have a mild reaction to blood transfusions. 

Reactions can include:

  • hives
  • rash
  • itching
  • fever
  • chills.

Rare but severe reactions can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest or back pain
  • nausea and vomiting.

Some side effects can be treated with medications or by slowing the transfusion.

Tell the doctor or nurse immediately if your child has any side effects during or after the transfusion.


Blood products

Blood is made up of different parts or products that do different jobs. Different blood products can be given during a blood transfusion.

Blood products include:

  • red blood cells – cells that carry oxygen around the body 
  • platelets - cells that help to stop or prevent bleeding from happening
  • plasma - used to help the blood form a clot and may be used with platelets to prevent or stop bleeding
  • albumin - a protein that moves nutrients, fluids, hormones and medications through the blood.

Alternative treatments

Blood transfusions can be life-saving, and other treatments have limited options. Each child has different needs, and sometimes, the risks of a blood transfusion are better than the result of not having one.

Speak to your child’s doctor if you have concerns or want more information about blood transfusions.

Safety of donated blood

Australia has one of the safest blood supplies in the world. All blood donors are carefully screened and cannot donate if they do not meet the strict criteria. 

Australian Red Cross Blood Service tests all blood donations for infections that can be transmitted through blood, including:

All donated blood that fails testing is destroyed to ensure that all blood products are safe to use and of a high standard.

Last updated Wednesday 6th March 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024