Although artificial insemination (intrauterine insemination/IUI) seems like a modern, high-technology procedure to help patients with infertility issues, it has actually been in existence since the early 1900s. Early procedures were fairly basic and straight-forward; the donor ejaculated into a receptacle and the sperm was collected in a syringe-like device then “injected” into the vagina. Essentially, it is the same process that you would use for natural insemination.
Today the method is a bit more complicated – the sperm is treated and delivered directly into the uterus – but the procedure is basically the same.
Here are some answers to your frequently-asked questions about artificial insemination:
Who Uses Artificial Insemination?
Artificial insemination addresses a variety of fertility issues but is best suited for situations where the sperm is unable to make it to the egg by any other means.
For example, with natural insemination the man ejaculates sperm into the vagina but not all of the sperm actually survive the journey up the uterus to the egg. The more sperm a man produces, the greater the chances of success. If he has a low sperm count, all of the sperm could die before they make it to the egg.
Conversely, a man could produce enough sperm, but the sperm could have what’s called low motility. That means they aren’t very strong or fast swimmers, and can’t get to the egg fast enough before they die.
There are also instances where a woman can be allergic to her partner’s sperm and her immune system actually destroys the sperm before it can reach the egg.
How Does Artificial Insemination Work?
The actual process of artificial insemination begins well before the sperm is injected into the uterus.
In the first step of the process, the female partner might take fertility drugs, for several weeks prior to the procedure to increase the number of eggs she releases during ovulation. Normally a woman releases one egg per month. By releasing more eggs, she increases her chances of fertilization.
The male partner might receive hormone treatments to boost sperm production, and might also make lifestyle changes to improve sperm motility. For example, he could be required to wear boxers instead of briefs, to maintain the proper temperature in his testicles, and to increase his intake of certain vitamins and minerals, like zinc.
The female partner typically uses an ovulation kit to determine when she is ovulating. In some cases the doctor might also prescribe medication to stimulate ovulation.
Once it is clear that the woman is ovulating, both partners will arrange to go into the clinic and the male partner will produce a sperm sample.
A technician will then treat, or “wash,” the sperm to concentrate the strongest sperm with the highest motility into one sample.
The doctor will then “inject” the sperm into the uterus using a special device with a catheter attachment that goes right into the uterus. The insemination process takes less than an hour.
The couple will then wait two weeks and take a pregnancy test to see if the procedure was successful. It could be successful on the first attempt, but it generally takes up to six attempts for a successful fertilization.
What Is the Success Rate of Artificial Infertilization?
The successful outcome of the procedure depends on a variety of factors including the nature of your fertility issue, your age, and your overall health status. On average the success rate ranges from 5-20 percent for each attempt, and fertility drugs increase your chances of success.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Artificial Infertilization?
Pro: artificial insemination is less expensive and not as invasive as other fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproductive technology (ART).
Con: Timing is essential and sometimes tricky. Once ovulation starts, you have a fairly narrow window to get to the clinic, produce a sperm sample, wash the sperm, and inject it into the uterus. Using drugs that stimulate ovulation can give you some measure of control, but it still requires good timing.
Pro: Artificial insemination is very successful in situations where male fertility is the issue because it can deliver the sperm directly into the uterus and closer to the egg.
Con: It can take several attempts, and each attempt (or cycle) could require you to take the fertility drugs and hormones, which could have side-effects. Side-effects could include abdominal discomfort, headaches, and mood swings. Severe side-effects could include life-threatening blood clots.
What Does Artificial Insemination Cost?
The average cost of artificial insemination is between $300 and $700 per attempt. If you take fertility medication, use special ovulation monitoring, or use donor sperm, the cost could increase to as much as $4,000 per attempt. Some insurance plans may cover the procedure but, if not, you will be responsible for the cost.