Artificial insemination is a method that is used to treat different infertility cases found in women and men. In this technique, sperms are directly inserted into a woman’s uterus, fallopian tubes or cervix.
This direct insertion into the aforementioned body parts make it easier for sperms to reach the egg since there are no possible obstructions.Ideally, artificial insemination increases the chances of pregnancy in a situation where it was previously impossible.
However effective it is to treat infertility, artificial insemination still poses several risk factors.
Why Is Artificial Insemination Done?
The most common type of artificial insemination is Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), and it is where sperms are placed in a uterus. In IUI fertility treatment, a catheter is used to directly place several washed sperm cells in the uterus. IUI looks to increase the number of sperm that reach the fallopian tube subsequently increasing the probability of fertilization. IUI is mostly done for people who:
- Want to get pregnant using donor sperm. Frozen sperm specimens are acquired from certified sperm banks/labs and are then thawed before they undergo IUI.
- Have unexplained infertility. In such a case, IUI is the first treatment together with medications that induce ovulation.
- Have infertility issues that are related to Endometriosis. Here, IUI is used along with several medications to get the best egg.
- Suffer from mild male factor infertility/subfertility. In this scenario, the first step is to have the man’s semen analyzed. This analysis may show weak sperm movement (motility), below-average sperm count or abnormal sperm shape or size (morphology). IUI helps the patient overcome some of those problems because the sperms are separated for IUI. Therefore, the normal and highly motile sperm are separated from the ones that are of low quality. This will work best if the sperms have one and not many of the aforesaid abnormalities.
- Suffer from cervical factor infertility. During ovulation, the cervix produces mucus that makes the environment ideal for the sperm to move from the vagina to the fallopian tubes. However, if the mucus gets too thick, the sperm movement is impeded. IUI ensures that the sperm is directly deposited to the uterus, and this increases the chances of fertilization.
- Have semen allergy. Although it is rare, there are women who are allergic to their partner’s semen protein. Therefore, when a man ejaculates in the vagina, the woman’s skin turns red, gets a burning sensation and swells whenever the semen comes in contact with the skin. Using a condom will prevent the swelling, reddening and burning, but prevents pregnancy. If the sensitivity is not mild, IUI can be performed since most of the protein is removed prior to insertion of the sperm.
Risks of Artificial Insemination
Since IUI is a relatively safe and simple procedure, the risks of serious complications are low. The risks include:
- Spotting. Sometimes, when the catheter is placed inside the uterus, there is some little vaginal bleeding. This, however, does not have any effect on the possibility of getting pregnant.
- Multiple pregnancies. Even though IUI has not been linked to multiple pregnancies like twins or triplets or even more, it can increase the chances of multiple pregnancies when used alongside ovulation-inducing medications. Multiple pregnancies also come with risks like low weight during birth and early labor.
- Infections. Studies have shown that less than 1% of women who have undergone IUI get infections from the procedure.
How to Prepare For the Procedure
- Prepare semen sample. The sperm donor should give a sperm sample for it to be thawed and prepared.
- Monitor ovulation. Timing is very important if you are to undergo IUI. You can monitor your ovulation by using a Urine Ovulation Predictor kit or by visiting your doctor for a trans-vaginal ultrasound.
- Determining optimal timing. Most IUIs take place a day or 2 after ovulation has been detected. The doctor will give you a plan for your IUI.
What Happens During Artificial Insemination?
An IUI procedure takes utmost half an hour and is done in a clinic or a doctor’s office.The procedure itself takes about two minutes, and you will not need any pain relievers or pain medication.
- During the IUI procedure, you will lie on the exam table with your legs in stirrups then the doctor will insert a speculum in the vagina. Afterwards, the nurse/doctor will:
- Attach vial that contains sperm sample to an end of a flexible, thin, long tube (the catheter).
- Insert the catheter in the vagina through the cervical opening and into your uterus.
- Push the sperm through tube into your uterus.
- First remove the catheter and then the speculum.
What Are the Pros, Cons and Costs of Artificial Insemination?
Artificial insemination is less expensive and also less invasive compared to ART (assisted reproductive technology) treatments like IVF (in vitro fertilization). Additionally, couples who have male fertility problems have a much easier time conceiving using artificial insemination than they do when they time intercourse. Couples who have unexplained fertility issues also have better results using this procedure than they do when using fertility drugs. Artificial insemination also enables natural fertilization.
Insemination timing can be cruel. Therefore, the sperm donor should be able to give a sperm sample in a cup via masturbation at a clinic or a doctor’s office. You both should also be ready to go to the doctor’s office the exact time you have been told by the doctor i.e. time of ovulation. Chances are you will be given a ‘heads-up’ a day or 36 hours prior to the ovulation date.
If you have a partner and are using his sperm, the average cost for the artificial insemination in the USA is between 300 and 700 dollars per cycle. Add costs for medication and ultrasound monitoring, which is between 1500 to 4000 dollars. However, the costs vary depending on the clinic, location of residence and whether you have a partner or are using sperm from a sperm lab which will cost you more. Also, you will have to pay up-front if your insurance policy does not cover artificial insemination treatment.
Watch a video for a 3D animation of how artificial insemination works: