About a third of fertility issues are due to problems with the man. Another third are caused by problems with both the woman and the man. In both cases, using a sperm donor may offer an affordable, safe, low-intervention path to pregnancy. Finding a sperm donor in Houston is not hard, and choosing the right fertility clinic increases your odds of a successful, healthy, happy pregnancy. So if you’re considering undergoing the sperm donation process, here’s what you need to know.
Fertilization Basics: How Long Does it Take for Sperm to Reach the Egg?
To understand the potential role of a sperm donor, you first must understand the basics of fertilization. So let’s do a quick sex-ed refresher.
To create a baby, the sperm has to reach the egg. For this to happen, a man has to ejaculate into the woman, and his ejaculate has to contain enough sperm to travel to the egg. Once the sperm enters the woman's body through her vagina, it’s a mad dash to the egg. The faster a sperm can swim, the greater is its likelihood of reaching the egg.
Fertilization requires a complex dance between the sperm and the egg. Once the egg is released, it will only live 12-24 hours. So sperm must make their journey quickly. Because sperm can live 5-7 days in a woman’s reproductive tract, slower swimming sperm may make their way to the egg if the man ejaculates in the woman a day or two before she ovulates. Indeed, research shows that the days right before ovulation are actually the best time to have sex since this gives the sperm sufficient time to travel to the egg.
The amount of time it takes a sperm to travel to the egg depends on how fast the sperm can swim. Very fast sperm may make the journey in as little as a half hour. Slower swimming sperm can take hours or days to reach the egg.
When a sperm reaches the egg, fertilization occurs. After an egg is fertilized, it must travel to the uterus and implant itself into the uterine wall -- a process that usually takes 7-10 days. Implantation is the technical beginning of pregnancy and the point at which the body begins to produce pregnancy hormones.
Signs of Healthy Sperm: How to Tell if a Man is Fertile
Most people with infertility do not know they are infertile. Young, healthy, physically active men can be infertile, and there are no outward signs that prove a person is infertile or fertile. This means the best way to assess whether a man is fertile is for him to have a semen analysis. This is a test that assesses the quality of his semen -- including its ability to nourish healthy sperm that stays alive longer in the woman’s body -- as well as the quality of sperm. This latter factor measures: morphology (shape and quality), motility (ability to move), and count (the number of sperm).
Men with low scores in any of these three categories, as well as those who have no sperm in their ejaculate or who cannot ejaculate may struggle to get their partners pregnant. The lower a man’s sperm or semen quality is, the lower his chances are. And if a man does not ejaculate or has no sperm at all, pregnancy becomes an impossibility.
Some signs that a man may struggle with fertility include:
- A history of erectile dysfunction.
- Swelling in, on, or around the penis or testicles.
- Difficulty ejaculating.
- Pain when ejaculating or urinating.
- Being over the age of 45.
It’s important to keep in mind that many infertile men have no symptoms at all. It’s even possible for a man who has previously impregnated a partner to become infertile since age affects fertility in both men and women.
Pregnancy Success With Low Sperm Count
So what happens if a man has low sperm count, or other problems, such as low or no motility? The odds of a successful pregnancy drop with a man’s sperm count. The lower the number, the lower the chances of pregnancy are. And if a man has no sperm at all, pregnancy becomes impossible.
What if a man has some sperm, but the numbers are lower than they should be? If his partner is healthy and the couple correctly times intercourse, there is still a chance to conceive. Pregnancy may, however, take longer. If the woman is not pregnant within 6-12 months, seek help. That’s because fertility diminishes with age, and waiting too long to seek help can give other issues time to develop, lowering your chances of a successful pregnancy.
How a Sperm Donor Can Help
A sperm donor allows the couple to have a baby that is biologically the woman’s but using the sperm of another man -- usually an anonymous donor. The woman’s male partner will still be the child’s legal father, and if the woman does not have a partner, the child will have no legal father.
A sperm donor is a great option when the woman either has no fertility issues or has a treatable fertility problem and the man has:
- Low sperm count.
- Serious erectile dysfunction.
- No sperm.
- Low sperm motility or morphology.
- A physiological problem that makes it impossible for him to have sex with his partner.
Though the baby will not be the man’s biological child, all other aspects of parenthood will be the same. So for couples who want a child and want the experience of pregnancy but for whom issues with the man make pregnancy difficult, a sperm donor is a great option.
Sperm Donation Process
In general, the process goes like this:
- You and your partner undergo fertility testing which reveals that there is a problem with the man’s sperm. This component is critical to the process since only a comprehensive diagnostic procedure can ensure infertility is correctly treated. If the sole or primary problem is with the man’s sperm, you’ll decide whether a sperm donor is right for you.
- If you opt for a sperm donor, you’ll choose an anonymous donor from a book of donors. This book will include information about the donor, including their appearance, career, and other details.
- After you've chosen a donor, the fertilization process begins. The process varies depending on a number of factors. If you choose intrauterine insemination (IUI), the doctor will inject the washed semen directly into the uterus through the vagina. If you opt for in vitro fertilization (IVF), a doctor will fertilize the egg outside of the body with the semen you choose, and then implant the embryo into the body a few days later.
The sperm you use is always washed and cleaned, so there is no risk of infection.
Odds of Pregnancy Success With Donor Sperm
The odds of pregnancy success with donor sperm are very high, especially if the woman either does not have a fertility issue or her fertility issues are properly treated.
For most people, the odds of success are even higher than they are with trying to get pregnant the old-fashioned way.
Reasons this proves true is:
- The sperm you use is pre-screened to ensure it is high quality and fertile.
- The woman will have undergone testing and treatment to address any fertility issues, ensuring the sperm has a high chance of successfully fertilizing the egg.
- A doctor ensures the timing is perfect to maximize the odds of a pregnancy. There’s no risk of missing a woman’s fertile window.
If you opt for an IUI procedure, the woman does not have to take hormones. This greatly reduces the cost of the procedure, allowing you to try again if the first procedure fails. Most couples are able to get pregnant in just a few months with the use of donor sperm.
Is a Sperm Donor Right for You?
Many men are reluctant to use a sperm donor because they want to have a child who is biologically theirs. Nevertheless, sperm donation is a great and safe option. You can even choose a donor who looks like you.
Sperm donation may be a good option if:
- The woman wants the experience of pregnancy.
- The man does not want fertility surgery.
- There is a high risk that if the couple continues trying without intervention their fertility clock will run out.
- The couple wants the fastest, safest route to parenthood.
Alternatives to Sperm Donors
If the man wants to father a biological child, there may be other options -- but only if he has a reasonably high sperm count.
Some alternatives may include:
- Surgery to remove a varicocele.
- Lifestyle changes to improve sperm count.
- In vitro fertilization or intrauterine insemination with the man’s sperm.
- Treating any fertility issues in the woman in the hopes that doing so will improve the couple’s chances.
Many men with low sperm count have what’s called suboptimal fertility. This means that the chances of getting pregnant are lower, but not impossible. With suboptimal fertility, it’s important to maximize the woman’s fertility and time ovulation to ensure intercourse or insemination are always optimized. The right fertility specialist can help you do just that. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that sperm donors are the best and most effective option for men with low sperm count. So if you try an alternative option and it fails, you might want to discuss with your partner whether or not they're open to using donated sperm. There is no right answer, but open, honest communication with your partner can help both of you avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.
When you discuss your options, be sure to ask your fertility specialist the following questions:
- Is sperm count high enough that there is a possibility we could get pregnant?
- What are the odds of pregnancy if we do nothing?
- What are the odds of pregnancy is we opt for a treatment other than using donor sperm?
- How long should we try alternatives before giving up or trying donor sperm?
When to See a Fertility Specialist
Fertility has a ticking clock attached to it, especially for women. So trying for years to get pregnant with no success is always a bad idea, since fertility declines in both partners over time. Particularly if the woman is in her 30s, it's important to seek prompt help for suspected infertility.
We recommend seeing a fertility specialist if:
- The man has a history of erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory issues.
- The man has blood in his urine or ejaculate, painful ejaculation, or swelling in or near the penis and/or testicles.
- The man frequently needs to urinate, especially at night.
- The couple has tried for 12 months or longer to get pregnant and the woman is under 35, or the couple has tried for 6 months or longer and the woman is over 35.
- Either partner has a previous history of infertility, or a previous semen analysis has revealed an issue with the man’s sperm.
- The woman has very irregular periods, never gets a positive result on an ovulation test, or knows she has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- The woman is trying to get pregnant on her own without a partner.
- The couple is unable to have sexual intercourse for any reason -- don’t try to do an “at-home insemination” with a turkey baster. This is dangerous and unlikely to work.
Infertility is a treatable medical condition. The sooner you seek treatment, the more options you will have. So don’t delay treatment, and don’t feel ashamed or alone. Infertility is common. It’s not a personal failing. But it can be deeply painful. The Center of Reproductive Medicine has helped hundreds of couples get pregnant. We can help you, too. Don’t go it alone. We’re here for you. Call us today.