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Artificial insemination is a fertility treatment method used to deliver sperm directly to the cervix or uterus in the hopes of getting pregnant. Sometimes, these sperm are washed or “prepared” to increase the likelihood a woman will get pregnant.
Two chief approaches to artificial insemination exist: intrauterine insemination (IUI) and intracervical insemination (ICI). Some women may also take medications to stimulate ovarian follicle growth and increase conception chances.
What is the process?
Conceiving requires a man’s sperm to travel up the vagina, through the cervix, into the uterus, and into a fallopian tube where an egg is fertilized. However, sometimes a man’s sperm isn’t mobile enough to make this trip. Other times, a woman’s cervix may not be favorable to allow sperm to travel into the uterus. In these instances and other situations, artificial insemination may help a woman conceive.
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A doctor may recommend a couple pursue artificial insemination:
- after six months of having unprotected sex if a woman is older than age 35
- after a year of having unprotected sex if a woman is younger than age 35
ICI is a type of artificial insemination that involves inserting sperm into the cervix. This is the passageway just outside the uterus. This approach can be used in a doctor’s office or at home. The steps for this process include:
- A woman will monitor her ovulation cycle using a calendar method, ultrasound, by taking her temperature regularly, or a combination of these. Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe medications to induce ovulation and increase the likelihood a woman will release multiple eggs. Clomid is one commonly prescribed medication.
- A woman’s partner will donate sperm for use or a woman will obtain a sperm sample from a donor.
- A doctor will insert sperm into the vagina using a special syringe. Another option is to place the sperm in a cervical cap that’s inserted into the cervix and stays for a designated amount of time.
- A woman will typically be instructed to lie down for 15 to 30 minutes. This ideally allows the sperm to move up from the cervix into the uterus.
- A woman can return to her regular activities after this time. In about two weeks or slightly longer, she’ll take a pregnancy test to determine if the insemination process was successful.
IUI is a procedure that involves inserting sperm past the cervix and directly into the uterus. The steps for this process are similar to that of ICI, but are usually performed at a doctor’s office and with specially prepared sperm. Additional steps include:
- The semen is prepared or “washed” to remove potential proteins that could affect fertilization. This also makes the sperm more concentrated. Ideally, this will increase the likelihood a woman will conceive.
- A doctor will use a special instrument called a speculum to make the uterus easier to access. They’ll use a special, thin instrument inserted through the vagina and place the sperm into the uterus.