Artificial insemination

Find out how artificial insemination is carried out, including using a partner’s sperm, donated sperm or fertility medication.

Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the technique used to carry out artificial insemination. 

IUI using a partner’s sperm

If a couple decides to have IUI using their own sperm, the man will be asked to provide a sperm sample at the fertility clinic. The sperm sample will usually be taken on the same day that IUI treatment takes place.

To obtain the sperm sample, the man will be asked to masturbate into a specimen cup. He may be asked not to have sexual intercourse or masturbate for two days before the sample is taken because this could affect the sperm sample’s quality.

After a sample has been provided, it will be "washed" and filtered using special equipment to remove any dead sperm and impurities. The faster-moving sperm will be kept and any slow-moving sperm will be removed. This produces a concentrated sample of healthy sperm.

A special instrument called a speculum is inserted into the woman's vagina to keep the walls of the vagina open. A thin, flexible tube called a catheter is then placed inside the vagina and guided into the womb. This process is mostly painless, although some women may experience mild cramping, similar to period pains. The sperm sample will then be passed through the catheter and into the womb.

The process usually takes no more than 10 minutes, and the couple should be able to go home shortly after the process has been completed.

IUI using a donor’s sperm

Choosing to use donated sperm can be a difficult decision, and a couple may be advised to have counselling before going ahead. Talking through the decision with a professional counsellor may help a couple decide if it is the right choice for them. 

If a couple decides to have IUI using the sperm of a donor, the procedure used is the same as above. However, instead of using the male partner's sperm, a sample of frozen sperm from a donor will be thawed out, "washed" and then inserted into the woman's womb.

All donated sperm is carefully checked for:

The fertility clinic can provide information about the physical characteristics of available donors, such as their ethnicity, physical build and hair and eye colour. This will enable a couple to try and match a potential donor’s characteristics with their own. 

Fertility medication

In the past, women who had IUI were also given medication to stimulate ovulation. However, nowadays the routine use of fertility medication is not usually recommended. This is because these types of medication increase the possibility of multiple births, such as twins or triplets (see Artificial insemination - risks for more information).

Wherever possible, fertility clinics try to avoid multiple births as there is an increased risk of complications associated with this type of pregnancy. The one circumstance where fertility medication is recommended is if a woman has symptoms of endometriosis, a condition where small pieces of the womb lining are found outside the womb.

Uterus (womb)
The uterus (also known as the womb) is a hollow, pear-shaped organ in a woman where a baby grows during pregnancy.

Vagina
The vagina is a tube of muscle that runs from the cervix (the opening of the womb) to the vulva (the external sexual organs).

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