Artificial insemination is a method of treating infertility by inserting semen directly into a womb.
Medical scientists developed the procedure to breed livestock. Since then, they have adapted the technique for use in humans.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the most common method of artificial insemination.
Why use it?
Artificial insemination can help people who are trying to treat infertility.
Artificial insemination can benefit couples or individuals with a range of needs.
In the United States, 6 percent of women aged 15 to 44 years are unable to conceive or maintain a pregnancy after one year of unprotected sex.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that a woman should consider seeing a fertility doctor to discuss treatment if she is:
unable to conceive within one year of trying
prone to irregular periods
over 35 years of age and trying to conceive
Doctors also recommend fertility treatment if a woman has two or more spontaneous miscarriages.
IUI can help in the following medical situations:
IUI can help support a couple that produces healthy sperm and eggs but is unable to have intercourse, possibly due to a medical condition, such as erectile dysfunction.
In women with cervical factor infertility, the cervix either does not produce the mucus that helps sperm travel to the womb, or the mucus contains a substance that kills the sperm. Artificial insemination can help bypass this problem.
Endometriosis causes the cells from the womb lining start to grow outside the womb, for example, in the ovaries or the fallopian tubes. Artificial insemination can be successful in mild to moderate cases of endometriosis. Many women with endometriosis can conceive naturally.
In rare cases, a woman may have an allergic reaction to certain proteins in sperm or semen. The artificial insemination can remove most of these before applying the sperm.
Some men are unable to produce enough sperm for successful fertilization, or their sperm may not be sufficiently motile. This means the sperm cannot move towards the egg effectively.
Certain medical treatments carry infertility as a risk, such as radiation therapy.
Before the treatment, a man can freeze some of his sperm for future use in artificial insemination.
In some couples, there is no clear reason for infertility, but the doctor may recommend IUI regardless.
IVF: What does it involve?
Click here to learn all about another IVF, another option for treating infertility.
Preparation of the semen sample
The sperm may come from a partner, but this is not always the case. If a partner cannot provide sperm, a woman can choose to receive a sperm donation.
This is an option for single women, women in a same-sex relationship, or in cases where the male partner has infertility.
The clinic cools and stores the sperm.
If the procedure uses a donor, they will provide the sample will to a sperm bank. The staff at the facility then quarantines the sample and tests it for any transmittable diseases.
The facility keeps the sperm frozen and thaws it out before making any preparations. Before the freezing process, they add a chemical called cryptoprotectant that protects the sperm in cold storage.
If the partner is donating his semen, the couple will provide the sample.
There are several methods for achieving this using:
a collection condom that collects semen during sexual intercourse
surgical sperm aspiration, where a physician removes sperm directly from the male reproductive tract
vibratory or electric stimulation if the male cannot ejaculate without assistance or devices