An insemination procedure uses a thin, flexible tube (catheter) to put sperm into the woman's reproductive tract. For some couples with infertility problems, insemination can improve the chances of pregnancy.
Donor sperm are used if the male partner is sterile, has an extremely low sperm count, or carries a risk of genetic disease. A woman planning to conceive without a male partner can also use donor sperm.
Prior to insemination, the sperm usually are washed and concentrated (placing unwashed sperm directly into the uterus can cause severe cramps). Concentration is accomplished by selectively choosing highly active, healthy sperm that are more capable of fertilizing an egg.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the placing of sperm into a woman's uterus when she is ovulating. This is achieved with a thin flexible tube (catheter) that is passed into the vagina, through the cervix, and into the uterus.
IUI can use sperm from the male partner or a donor. It is often combined with superovulation medicine to increase the number of available eggs.
Artificial insemination (AI) is another name for intrauterine insemination but can also refer to placing sperm in a woman's vagina or cervix when she is ovulating. The sperm then travel into the fallopian tubes, where they can fertilize the woman's egg or eggs.
AI can be done with sperm from the male partner or a donor, and can be combined with superovulation.
These techniques are done on an outpatient basis and require only a short recovery time. You may experience cramping during the procedure, especially if sperm are inserted into your uterus. You may be advised to avoid strenuous activities for the remainder of the day.
Intrauterine insemination or artificial insemination may be done if:
Insemination procedures can improve your chances of becoming pregnant, especially when combined with superovulation treatment.1 Treatment success is strongly influenced by a woman's age (an aging egg supply decreases pregnancy rate, and miscarriage risk increases with age).
Most of the following success rates are given in terms of pregnancies conceived; they do not reflect the fact that some pregnancies miscarry. In any group of women, live birth rates are lower than early pregnancy rates.
Studies have found no benefit to the practice of performing two IUI procedures per cycle for "subfertile" couples (who have not naturally conceived in 1 year but have no severe causes of infertility).2
Insemination combined with superovulation increases the risk of multiple pregnancy (conceiving more than one fetus).1 Multiple pregnancy is high-risk for mother and fetuses. For more information, see the topic Multiple Pregnancy: Twins or More.
Insemination procedures pose a slight risk of infection.
Some women experience severe cramping during insemination.
There is a slight risk of puncturing the uterus during intrauterine insemination.
There is a slight risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome if superovulation is used together with insemination.
There may be a higher risk of birth defects for babies conceived by certain assisted reproductive techniques. Talk with your doctor about these possible risks.
Insemination procedures are the simplest and least expensive methods of assisted reproduction. No anesthesia or surgery is needed.
If donor sperm are necessary, you can choose a known or anonymous donor who is willing to provide sperm.
- Al-Inany H (2005). Female infertility, search date April 2004. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Also available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
- Cantineau AEP, et al. (2003). Single versus double intrauterine insemination (IUI) in stimulated cycles for subfertile couples. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1).
- Speroff L, Fritz MA (2005). Male infertility. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 7th ed., pp. 1135–1173. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Last Revised: April 27, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
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