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What Is Assisted Insemination?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated May 17, 2024
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Assisted insemination is also termed artificial insemination, or intra-uterine insemination; it is a technique that women can use to become pregnant. Less invasive than some other forms of fertility treatment, assisted insemination involves placing sperm directly into the uterus so it doesn't have to travel through the vagina and cervix. This technique is suitable for women who have healthy eggs but suffer from medical problems like blockages in the reproductive tract which stop sperm, or for women who require donor sperm. Some patients may also receive medications to improve the receptivity of the eggs and uterus before the assisted insemination is performed.

A variety of medical issues can interfere with fertility, but many can be either cured or bypassed. For example, a woman may have a cervix damaged by scarring to the point where the passage of sperm is impeded. Other physical problems could prevent her from engaging in complete penetrative sex, thus preventing her partner's sperm from entering the uterus. For some couples, doctors may not be able to pinpoint specific fertility issues, and assisted insemination can potentially help in producing a pregnancy. Apart from medical issues, a woman who is single or homosexual may have to use donor sperm to get pregnant; in this situation, sexual intercourse is not generally the appropriate option.

Sperm collection is the necessary first step in assisted insemination procedures. The sperm may be collected from a partner or from a donor; it undergoes preparatory washing and purification in a laboratory before it is ready for use. Often, the woman need not take any medication to alter her natural fertility, but some patients do take medicines like hormones to increase fertility beforehand. With all assisted insemination procedures, though, the sperm is inseminated into the patient around the time of ovulation, which is the point in a woman's cycle when eggs are released, ready for fertilization.

Typically, a thin flexible tube is inserted through the woman's vagina and into the uterus. Commonly, this procedure is similar to a cervical smear procedure, with the use of a speculum to hold the walls of the cervix open for comfortable and accurate insertion. The sperm is injected through the tube into the uterus; from there, it can potentially travel to meet and fertilize the egg. This technique can be successful in producing pregnancy when healthy eggs and sperm are present, but is not suitable for low-quality sperm issues.

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