For many people, the first treatment that comes to mind when they think of fertility care is in vitro fertilization. Although IVF has revolutionized fertility medicine since the first successful IVF pregnancy in the 1970s, there are many other treatments that might be more appropriate, especially as the cause of infertility is determined. One such treatment is intrauterine insemination or IUI.
History of IUI
Also called artificial insemination, IUI is one of the first types of fertility intervention procedures recorded. The first documented use of IUI was in London in the 1770s by John Hunter, often referred to as “the founder of scientific surgery.” From that time - when semen was collected post-coitally with a “warmed syringe” - advancements in medicine and technology have made the process of IUI simpler and more effective.
IUI is most often recommended for couples with unexplained infertility, male factor infertility - such as low sperm count or poor sperm motility - or for those using donor sperm. Overall, the procedure is simple and can be broken down into 3 main steps:
- Ovulation is tracked to identify a fertile period
- Semen is collected and washed
- Sperm is inserted directly into the uterus
The sperm washing process is important for two reasons: first, it removes everything but the healthiest and most mobile sperm which have the best chance to reach the egg, and because inserting semen directly into the uterus can cause cramping and pain. Once the sperm is prepared and a fertile period is determined, the actual IUI is very similar to a pap smear. A speculate is used to gently expand the vaginal walls, and then a thin catheter is inserted through the cervix to inject the washed sperm.
Advantages of IUI
IUI has two main advantages over other types of fertility treatments. This procedure is:
- Less invasive
- Less expensive
Because eggs don’t need to be removed from the body, the process is far less invasive for the partner that will be carrying the pregnancy. The procedure also costs less than IVF since no egg extraction or laboratory monitoring is needed. For these reasons, when appropriate, IUI is a recommended procedure to try when first beginning fertility treatments.
Disadvantages of IUI
Though IUI can be a great option for some people, it does not address several fertility challenges. For IUI to be effective, the partner carrying the pregnancy needs to be ovulating and have clear and undamaged fallopian tubes, and the sperm used has to have a certain level of motility. If these factors aren’t met, a higher degree of intervention may be required.
What Comes Next
If you have been struggling to get pregnant for more than six months, it may be time to consider fertility treatments.
Whether you need IUI, semen analysis, IVF, or a combination of treatments, our fertility experts are here to answer your questions and advise you on the best treatments for you and your goals. Contact us today to begin your journey to parenthood!