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What is artificial insemination?
For some couples, simply wanting to have a baby is not enough. In these cases, all hope is not lost. Artificial insemination can make it possible to become pregnant.
Artificial insemination involves placing semen into a woman's reproductive tract, usually directly into the uterus. This helps ensure a greater chance of pregnancy because the sperm does not have to swim past the vagina.
When choosing artificial insemination, you may either use your partner's sperm (if you have a male partner) or sperm that has been donated. When sperm is used from an anonymous donor, the process is called therapeutic donor insemination.
No matter which method is used, artificial insemination makes it possible for many to dream of becoming pregnant when traditional intercourse has not been fertile.
Using your partner's sperm
You may choose artificial insemination to become pregnant for a variety of reasons.
Male problems that make it difficult to become pregnant through intercourse include:
- Low sperm count
- Premature ejaculation
- Retrograde ejaculation (when semen enters the bladder instead of leaving the penis)
Female problems that make it difficult to become pregnant through intercourse include:
- Abnormal cervical mucus, including lack of mucus, acidic mucus and thick mucus
- Narrow cervix
- Painful intercourse
For men who experience sterilization or undergo radiation or chemotherapy for cancer treatment, freezing sperm ahead of time is a good option. Later, the frozen sperm can be used during artificial insemination to help you become pregnant.
Using donor sperm
There are also times when it is not possible to use a partner's sperm for artificial insemination. The most obvious one occurs when a woman does not have a male partner to contribute. Other reasons may include:
- Your partner has azoospermia (the absence of sperm) or low sperm supply.
- Your partner carries a genetic abnormality and you both choose to avoid the risk of a child inheriting that condition.
When you choose to use donor sperm, it will be purchased from a sperm bank approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You will be able to choose donor sperm based on certain characteristics, such as:
- Eye color
- Hair color
- Level of education
- Skin color
All frozen donor sperm is tested and re-tested for diseases after a six-month waiting period. Then, when you're ready for artificial insemination, the donor sperm is placed in dry ice (liquid nitrogen) and shipped overnight to your physician's office for the procedure.
What to expect from artificial insemination
Although artificial insemination is a big deal, it is a relatively simple procedure and can be performed right in your doctor's office. During artificial insemination, sperm is thawed (if necessary) and then placed into the uterus using a small, plastic catheter.
In most cases, the semen is processed or diluted before it is used in order to reduce any chances of irritating the woman's uterus. Sometimes, if sperm quality is an issue, the doctor may use special methods to separate the more active sperm cells for greater success.
The most important part of artificial insemination is the timing. Artificial insemination will typically be planned for the expected day of ovulation, which can be determined using urine or blood testing. Your doctor may decide to use an injection of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) to help trigger ovulation if there are problems with ovulation. Once ovulation occurs, an egg can be fertilized for approximately 12 to 24 hours. Meanwhile a man's sperm is able to fertilize an egg for up to 72 hours.
Once artificial insemination is complete, it's time to play the waiting game. For a few hours following the procedure, you may notice some light vaginal bleeding or even feel a bit of cramping. This is normal.
If the sperm used came from your partner, you were likely asked to abstain from intercourse in the days leading up to insemination, in order to help store up his sperm. It is not only okay, but also actually recommended, that you have intercourse during the 24 hours after your artificial insemination.
Most women do not experience any problems after artificial insemination, however there is a small chance you might develop an infection or have a reaction to the sperm. Let your doctor know right away if you experience fever, chills or lower abdominal pain during the first five days after the procedure.
The best possible result, of course, is a viable pregnancy. In a matter of days, you will know if the artificial insemination was a success.