Intrauterine Insemination: What it is and how it works

When you’re dealing with infertility, it can be easy to research every fertility solution available, and hard to understand some of the techniques you’re learning about. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) might sound complicated, but it’s actually a fairly straightforward procedure and one of the most commonly used techniques for infertility treatment.


What is intrauterine insemination?


Intrauterine insemination is an assisted reproductive technique in which sperm are placed directly in your uterus. The goal is to place the sperm deep enough into your uterus that they can more easily swim into your fallopian tube, encounter an egg, and fertilize the egg in the conventional way to begin a pregnancy.


Why would I need IUI?


Because it’s fairly simple and straightforward — just placing the sperm as close to the fallopian tubes as possible — it’s a first course of treatment for a number of different fertility challenges.


  • Donor sperm. If you’re using donor sperm, IUI is the most common technique used.


  • Unexplained infertility. IUI is usually the first technique doctors use when they can’t identify a cause for infertility.


  • Infertility related to endometriosis. Doctors use medication to help you produce a good-quality egg, and then use IUI to fertilize it.


  • Ovulatory factor infertility. If you release few or no eggs, the process is similar to that for endometriosis-related infertility — producing a good egg, and then performing IUI.


  • Cervical factor infertility. If overly thick cervical mucus, scarring, or another cause makes it difficult for sperm to get through your cervix, IUI helps it make the journey.


  • Male factor infertility. If your fertility problems are related to the quality of your partner’s sperm, a “washing” process can separate out the best sperm to use for IUI.


How does IUI work?


Intrauterine insemination breaks down the steps of the traditional, one-on-one fertilization process to give you the best chance at pregnancy. The IUI process is very similar to a pap smear and is not painful. 


Preparing the semen. Your partner will provide a semen sample at the doctor’s office. (If you’ve selected a sperm donor, the doctor will thaw and prepare the chosen sperm.) The sperm are then “washed” — any elements that might interfere with fertilization, like certain proteins or low-quality sperm, are removed, leaving a good concentration of healthy sperm for your doctor to work with.


Monitoring ovulation. Your doctor will want to perform the IUI at a certain point in your cycle, shortly after you ovulate, so the egg you release will be in the right place to meet up with the sperm. You’ll be able monitor your fertility at home so you’ll know when that happens. The doctor might also give you a medication to stimulate ovulation and produce one or more good eggs.


Performing IUI. The IUI process is simple and usually takes just a couple of minutes. The doctor attaches a vial of that concentrated, healthy sperm to a long, flexible tube called a catheter. The doctor inserts the catheter into your vagina, through your cervix, and into your uterus to deposit the sperm. Then the catheter is removed and the sperm are left to do their job. There are no restrictions on the day of an IUI. 


Does IUI work?


The success rate of IUI varies by age. Women 35 and under will have a 10- to 20-percent success rate for each cycle of IUI. For women over 40, the success rate is 2 to 5 percent. It also varies by other factors — your fertility diagnosis, the fertility medications used, and other issues can influence your success rate. Your doctor can help you decide if IUI is best for you, or if you’d do better with a different procedure.


Alabama Fertility is here to help.


Infertility can be hard, physically and emotionally. Alabama Fertility wants to help you start or grow your family. Contact us to learn more about IUI and the other options we offer to give you the fertility care you need.

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Alabama Fertility is an advanced fertility care clinic specializing in a wide variety of fertility procedures for both men and women. We use our medical expertise to help our patients with both conception and pregnancy and we cannot wait to help you start your family! Our experienced and knowledgeable staff assist with couples and individuals looking to become pregnant or for those who need assistance with conception or fertilization. To help do this our clinic is proud to offer the most advanced fertility care available throughout Alabama. Some of the services we offer include fertility testing, fertility treatment, and reproductive surgery. We also have a selection of frozen and fresh donor eggs for our patients. We encourage any potential patients to learn more about our team, our medical specialties, and how we can help you. We also encourage those interested in fertility treatment to view our program overview to find the right fit for your conception, fertilization, and pregnancy needs.