There is no one-size-fits-all journey to family building, and many singles and couples turn to alternative fertility pathways to make their parenthood dreams a reality. Artificial insemination is one such pathway.
Below, we break down the basics of artificial insemination and answer your most-asked questions. The more informed you are, the more prepared you will be to make a decision about your family’s future.
What is artificial insemination?
Artificial insemination (AI) is a fertility treatment that aims to induce pregnancy by delivering sperm into the cervix or uterus. Sperm may be inserted as-is or “washed” to improve the likelihood of pregnancy. The patient may also take hormones to support ovarian follicle growth.
Two AI strategies are commonly used: intracervical insemination (ICI) and intrauterine insemination (IUI). Let’s take a closer look at the process involved with each.
How does intracervical insemination (ICI) work?
During the ICI procedure, sperm is administered into the cervix, which is the cylinder-shaped passageway that connects the vagina and uterus.
If you decide ICI is suitable for you, the treatment will unfold as follows:
- First, you will track your ovulation using one or more methods: following a calendar, taking your temperature, and undergoing ultrasounds, are examples. In some cases, your doctor may recommend medications that trigger ovulation. Clomiphene, brand-name Clomid, is a common fertility medication.
- Then, sperm will be harvested. Your partner may provide sperm, or a sample will be taken from a donor.
- Next, your doctor will place the sperm into your cervix using either a specialized syringe or a cervical cap. You may be asked to lie down for up to 30 minutes after insertion to give the sperm the best possible chance of traveling up the cervix and into the uterus.
- There is no downtime associated with ICI – you can resume your day-to-day activities immediately after insertion. After 14 days, you will take a pregnancy test. If you are not pregnant, you can work through the ICI process again.
How does intrauterine insemination (IUI) work?
During the IUI procedure, sperm is inserted directly into the uterus.
If you decide IUI is the best option for you, the treatment will unfold similarly to the ICI process outlined above. However, several additional steps may be required to increase the likelihood of conception.
The first IUI-specific step is washing the semen. This concentrates the sperm and removes proteins that could sabotage fertilization.
The second involves the use of a thin medical instrument called a speculum. This enables your doctor to safely and comfortably reach your uterus.
Why choose artificial insemination?
Many of us spend our entire lives trying to avoid pregnancy, only to struggle to conceive when we are finally ready for parenthood. Natural conception is not always possible.
Sometimes, sperm is not powerful or mobile enough to travel up the vagina, into the cervix, through the uterus, and into one of two fallopian tubes where an egg is waiting to be fertilized.
In other cases, the cervix itself disallows sperm to travel into the uterus.
If you have experienced the following fertility struggles, your doctor may suggest artificial insemination:
- You are over 35 and have not conceived after six months of regular unprotected sex.
- You are under 35 and have not conceived after 12 months of regular unprotected sex.
What are the success rates of artificial insemination?
Your likelihood of achieving pregnancy through AI will depend on several factors, including:
- How old you are
- The types of fertility drugs you are taking, if any
- The cause(s) of your (and your partner’s) fertility struggles
However, you can use success rates drawn from peer-reviewed studies as a general guide.
- For ICI, the rate of a successful pregnancy is 37.9 percent. Participants underwent six treatment cycles.
- For IUI, the rate of a successful pregnancy is 40.5 percent, slightly higher than that of ICI, after six treatment cycles.
IUI is likely more successful than ICI because of the unique preparatory steps and direct placement of sperm into the uterus.
What are the benefits of artificial insemination?
AI is a relatively comfortable and economical fertility treatment that can transform the lives of individuals and couples from all cross-sections of society.
Here are just some of the benefits that make AI an appealing fertility pathway:
- When using donor sperm, AI can eliminate the risk of passing on genetic disorders to children.
- AI can help people with low sperm counts and low sperm motility (which is the sperm’s ability to move efficiently) become biological parents.
- People whose cervical mucus prevents sperm from traveling into the uterus can conceive through AI.
- People with endometriosis may be able to become pregnant using AI.
- Single people who want to have a child can do so using AI.
- Same-sex couples can become pregnant using donor sperm during the AI process.
What if artificial insemination doesn’t work?
In most cases, if, after six cycles of AI treatment, you have not become pregnant, it may be time to reevaluate your fertility journey. Underlying fertility issues may be preventing you from conceiving with AI.
Your doctor may recommend in vitro fertilization (IVF), a treatment that involves removing your eggs and fertilizing them outside of your body. After they develop into embryos, your doctor will transfer one or more into your uterus. If the embryo implants, you will become pregnant.
IVF is a popular and widely-used fertility treatment method – in the United States, more than one million babies were conceived via IVF between 1987 and 2015.
The success rate of IVF is higher than AI, with people aged 35 and under enjoying a 54 percent chance of pregnancy and birth.
Explore your family-building options today
Artificial insemination has helped thousands of individuals and couples, including same-sex couples, across the world bring their dreams of parenthood into reality.
If you believe AI is right for your family, please do not hesitate to reach out and schedule a consultation. We are more than happy to discuss your needs and concerns and provide personalized advice. The team at IVFLA is here to help.