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Infertility and Artificial Insemination

WebMD Medical Reference
Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD

Artificial insemination is a technique that can help treat certain kinds of infertility in both men and women. In this procedure, sperm are inserted directly into a woman's cervix, fallopian tubes, or uterus. This makes the trip shorter for the sperm and bypasses any possible obstructions. Ideally, it makes pregnancy possible where it wasn't before. Intrauterine insemination (IUI), in which the sperm is placed in the uterus, is the most common form of artificial insemination.

Though the pregnancy rates for women undergoing artificial insemination may not be as high as they are for some more advanced techniques, this technique has some key advantages: It's a simple procedure with few side effects and it is not expensive.

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For those reasons, your doctor may recommend it as an initial form of treatment for infertility.

What Type of Infertility Can Artificial Insemination Treat?

Artificial insemination can be used for many kinds of fertility problems. It's a popular infertility treatment for men who have very low sperm counts or sperm that aren't strong enough to swim through the cervix and up into the fallopian tubes. Artificial insemination is also sometimes an option for women who have endometriosis or abnormalities of any of their reproductive organs.

Women with "unreceptive cervical mucus" are also good candidates for artificial insemination. In these women, the mucus surrounding the cervix is hostile to sperm and prevents sperm from getting into the uterus and fallopian tubes. Artificial insemination allows the sperm to skip the cervical mucus entirely. Doctors also often suggest artificial insemination when they cannot determine the reason a couple is infertile.

What to Expect During Artificial Insemination

Your doctor will use ovulation kits, ultrasound, or blood tests to make sure you are ovulating when you undergo artificial insemination.

When you are ovulating, your partner will be asked to produce a sample of semen. The doctor will suggest that your partner abstain from sex for two to five days in advance to ensure a higher sperm count. If you live close to the clinic, your partner may be able to collect the semen at home by masturbating. Otherwise, the clinic will provide a private room for this purpose. The sperm must be "washed" in a laboratory within one hour of ejaculation.

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