By definition, artificial insemination is the deliberate introduction of sperm into a woman’s uterus or cervix to achieve pregnancy. Artificial insemination (AI) is a successful fertility treatment in humans.
In the early 1900s, artificial insemination required little more than some healthy sperm and a means to deliver it into a woman’s uterus. Today’s AI procedures involve careful “washing” of the sperm before placement. Artificial insemination also earned a new name – intrauterine insemination, or IUI.
Today’s AI greatly improves a couple’s chances of becoming pregnant because the new procedures give increase the likelihood of a sperm inseminating the egg. Ejaculate contains sperm and other substances including prostaglandins that help relax and open the cervix. However, prostaglandin can cause contractions, nausea and vomiting when placed in the uterus. Today’s IUI process rinses the prostaglandins from the semen then collects only the semen showing healthy motility.
The first step of the artificial insemination process is an examination of both the male and female to identify physical hindrances that prevent the couple from naturally achieving a pregnancy, and to determine whether AI is the appropriate choice. The male will take a fertility test to determine the motility, number and health of his sperm. The practitioner will evaluate the success of the female’s ovulation.
When Artificial Insemination Can Help
Artificial insemination can use sperm provided by the woman’s partner, or by a known or anonymous donor. The use of donor sperm is helpful in cases of male impotence, when a lesbian couple wishes to have a biological child, or when a woman does not want to have a male partner. AI is also viable in cases where the man had his sperm frozen before a medical procedure or death.
AI is also helpful in cases where the woman has issues with her cervix, such as scarring, blockage from endometriosis, or thick cervical muscles that resist the passage of sperm from the cervix to the uterus.
Artificial insemination with IUI may be helpful in cases where the woman has a sperm allergy, which causes symptoms that make it difficult for her to conceive. AI is also viable when the man has a low sperm count or poor sperm mobility, which means the sperm have difficulty making the long journey to the egg.
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is the preferred treatment in cases of extremely poor sperm mobility or low sperm counts. The ICSI procedure is similar to IUI except that, in ICSI, the fertility specialist picks up individual sperm with a fine glass needle and injects it directly into an egg rather than into the cervix. Relatively few sperm are required for ICSI, and the procedure overcomes poor sperm mobility problems.