While it’s not unusual for couples to deal with infertility, it can be frustrating or even heartbreaking. Fortunately, there are treatments that can aid with fertility and increase the chances of a woman becoming pregnant. One of these treatments is artificial insemination.
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What is Artificial Insemination?
You’re likely already familiar with this treatment, even if only by name. Artificial insemination (AI) is a method that involves introducing sperm directly into a woman’s cervix or uterus to facilitate pregnancy. On occasion, the sperm is ‘washed’ or ‘prepared’ to help increase the likelihood of pregnancy.
There are two different strategies for artificial insemination: intrauterine insemination (IUI) and intracervical insemination (ICI). As the names imply, one involves the sperm being injected directly into the uterus, while the other involves sperm going directly into the cervix.
In addition to the procedure itself, some women may also take medications—called follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) drugs—that stimulate ovarian follicle growth. This can help increase the likelihood of conception, especially when paired with an insemination treatment. Keep in mind that FSH drugs are just one of many fertility medications that might be offered to families attempting to conceive. However, it should be noted that taking fertility medication alongside an artificial insemination procedure can increase the likelihood of multiple pregnancy, that is, conceiving twins, triplets, or more.
Understanding the Procedure
For a woman to conceive, a man’s sperm has to travel up the vagina, through the cervix, and into the uterus itself. The sperm must make contact with a female egg—or ovum—that has been released from the ovary and is traveling down the fallopian tube. After contact has been made, the fertilized egg cells begin to divide and multiply. These cells will eventually form the blastocyst, which will implant in the uterine wall and grow into a fetus.
During an ICI procedure, a doctor uses a special syringe to deposit sperm into the patient’s cervix—the tiny passageway between the birth canal and the uterus. With IUI, however, the goal is to get the sperm as close as possible to its destination, that is, the fallopian tubes and ultimately, the ovum. This procedure increases the likelihood that both parties will be in the right place at the right time and that the sperm and ovum will meet. Insertion of the sperm directly into the uterus cuts down on ‘swim time,’ bypassing the vagina and the cervix altogether.
Of course, the more laborious and specialized the procedure, the greater the cost will be. According to Parents.com, a single IUI cycle can cost between $300 and $1,000 without insurance. Meanwhile, one cycle of ICI will likely cost between $200 and $350.
If a woman chooses to use a sperm donor to conceive, the price will increase significantly. In addition, if a patient chooses to have the sperm ‘washed,’ this will cost another premium. However, for some patients, their health insurance may cover some costs associated with the procedure, including medications, ultrasounds, and blood work.
While AI can be an effective procedure, a single treatment cycle often has a low success rate. Therefore, it’s likely that patients will need to undergo a handful of cycles to see results. However, if repeated AI treatments are unsuccessful, a doctor may recommend an in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment instead. This procedure is much more expensive but also has a higher rate of conception, with a success rate of over 50 percent for women under 35 who use their own fresh eggs.
AI is more often recommended for patients with mild or minor fertility issues, same-sex couples, and surrogates. Some may attempt to try AI at home via the good old-fashioned ‘turkey baster’ method. This strategy is fine if you have time on your hands and an unlimited supply of sperm, but it’s not particularly scientific. In fact, if you conceive by baster or some other form of home AI kit, it may actually negate any legal parental/child protections that a medically supervised conception can afford.
Ultimately, AI can be a worthwhile investment for aspiring parents. However, before you decided to embark on this journey, it’s essential to consult with your doctor and your partner to ensure you’re making the best decision for you and your future family.