Most people think immediately of in vitro fertilization (IVF), a type of fertilization that occurs outside the womb, when they contemplate artificial insemination. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is a less well-known but potentially effective form of artificial insemination. This strategy works well for a range of issues, and is less invasive and costly than IVF. Many couples struggling with fertility issues opt to try IUI before attempting IVF, and many find that the strategy pays off.

Who Should Try Intrauterine Insemination?

Virtually anyone who is a good candidate for IVF is also a good candidate for IUI. People for whom this strategy may be a good option include:

    • Couples and individuals with unexplained infertility.
    • Individuals and couples using donor sperm or eggs. IUI allows your doctor to inseminate the woman with sperm after washing the sperm and checking to ensure the woman is ovulating.
    • Couples who have trouble getting pregnant due to male erectile dysfunction.
    • Couples for whom a sperm allergy, lack of cervical mucus, or allergy to semen impedes fertility.
    • Couples with a low sperm count or low sperm motility. When the sperm don't have to make the long journey to the egg, fertilization attempts may be more successful.

How Does Intrauterine Insemination Work?

Intrauterine insemination is a process that allows the doctor to insert sperm directly into the uterus to fertilize an egg. This shortens the journey the sperm has to take to the egg. Because IUI requires the doctor to monitor ovulation, it can also help circumvent issues with intercourse timing and ensure fertilization occurs at the optimal time for a pregnancy to occur.

IUI will not work for people who have structural abnormalities that render implantation impossible, nor for women who do not ovulate at all. In some women with autoimmune or inflammatory diseases, IUI may fail because the body rejects the developing embryo.

IUI can be done with almost no preparation, and does not require the woman to take hormones prior to the procedure. However, a woman with other reproductive issues—such as hormonal imbalances—may benefit from hormone therapy prior to an IUI insemination. And because more eggs mean a greater chance of successful fertilization, some doctors prefer to have women take stimulating drugs that increase egg production prior to an IUI procedure. Your doctor will talk with you about the relative risks and benefits of this strategy.

Is Intrauterine Insemination Safe?

IUI does not require the use of hormones or medications, which means the risks of side effects is minimal. Because it is a non-invasive procedure, the woman is unlikely to experience serious health problems. Discomfort is minimal, and the procedure itself takes only a few minutes. The man must only donate sperm, which is a completely safe and unobtrusive procedure.

As with all fertility treatments, IUI does come with some risks if there is already a health problem. For example, a woman with a history of recurrent miscarriages could suffer another miscarriage after an IUI procedure, and this in turn could trigger a number of physical and psychological health problems. In general though, IUI is one of the safest fertility treatment options.