When you and your partner talk to a doctor about getting help for infertility, he may suggest a technique called "artificial insemination." It's a simple procedure with few side effects, and it can help some couples who haven't been able to get pregnant.
In artificial insemination, a doctor inserts sperm directly into a woman's cervix, fallopian tubes, or uterus. The most common method is called "intrauterine insemination (IUI)," when a doctor places the sperm in the uterus.
Although some people still think of fertility as a "woman's problem," in 20% of infertile couples, the problem is solely with the male partner. Infertility in a man may be the only reason that a couple can't conceive, or it may simply add to the difficulties caused by infertility in his partner.
So it's crucial that men get tested for fertility as well as women. It's also important that men do it early. Though some guys may want to put off being tested -- possibly to avoid embarrassment -- early...
Why is this helpful? It makes the trip shorter for the sperm and gets around any obstructions. Your doctor may suggest this method first as a treatment for infertility.
What Type of Infertility Can Artificial Insemination Treat?
The procedure can be used for many kinds of fertility problems. If you're a man, it's often used if you have a very low sperm count or you have sperm that aren't strong enough to swim through the cervix and up into the fallopian tubes.
If you're a woman, it's sometimes done if you have a condition called endometriosis or you have anything that's abnormal in your reproductive organs.
This method might also be right for you if you have something called an "unreceptive cervical mucus." That means the mucus that surrounds the cervix prevents sperm from getting into your uterus and fallopian tubes. Artificial insemination lets the sperm skip the cervical mucus entirely.
Doctors also often suggest artificial insemination when they can't figure out the reason a couple is infertile.
What to Expect During the Procedure
Your doctor will use ovulation kits, ultrasound, or blood tests to make sure you're ovulating when you get artificial insemination. Then, your partner will need to provide a sample of his semen. The doctor will suggest that your partner avoid sex for 2 to 5 days before the procedure to help make sure his sperm count is high.
If you live close to the clinic, your partner may be able to collect a semen sample at home. If not, he'll do this in a private room. The reason it helps if you live close to the doctor's office is that the sperm must be "washed" in a laboratory within 1 hour of ejaculation.