Today, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is practically a household word. But not so long ago, it was a mysterious procedure for infertility that produced what were then known as "test-tube babies." Louise Brown, born in England in 1978, was the first such baby to be conceived outside her mother's womb.
Unlike the simpler process of artificial insemination -- in which sperm is placed in the uterus and conception happens otherwise normally -- IVF involves combining eggs and sperm outside the body in a laboratory. Once an embryo or embryos form, they are then placed in the uterus. IVF is a complex and expensive procedure; only about 5% of couples with infertility seek it out. However, since its introduction in the U.S. in 1981, IVF and other similar techniques have resulted in more than 200,000 babies.
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...