It’s not a term you hear anymore, but artificial insemination as a treatment for infertility is still very widely practiced. It has a new name: intrauterine insemination (IUI), and it is an excellent low-tech treatment for some types of infertility.

What is the difference between artificial insemination and IUI?

There is a slight distinction to be made between the two. During artificial insemination, sperm are placed directly into the cervix, uterus or fallopian tubes. IUI is a form of artificial insemination. As its name suggests, during IUI, sperm are introduced directly into the uterus. This is the most common form of artificial insemination practiced. Introducing sperm into the uterus is minimally invasive while at the same time giving them the “head start” they may need to encounter and fertilize an egg.

What types of infertility does IUI treat?

Your doctor may recommend IUI if your infertility is due to the follow factors:
Male factor: low sperm count
Male factor: sperm mobility issues
Female factor: issues with the cervix or cervical mucus
Female factor: endometriosis or other structural problems
Unknown factors

The great thing about IUI is that it can help couples overcome many types of infertility issues without the expense, drugs, or invasive nature of more high-tech procedures like IVF.

What happens during an IUI procedure?

Once your doctor determines exactly when you are ovulating, you and your partner will come to the clinic for the procedure. You may be asked to refrain from sex for a few days beforehand to improve his sperm count. Your partner provides a sperm sample that is then prepared in a laboratory. The highest quality sperm are selected and introduced into the uterus through the vagina and cervix via a thin catheter.

IUI is a relatively painless procedure, similar to having a PAP test performed. You may have some slight cramping and bleeding afterwards. Your doctor may ask you to remain lying down for 15 to 45 minutes afterward so that gravity does not hinder the success of the procedure.

How successful is IUI?

The success of the procedure varies widely depending on many factors. The age of the woman, quality of the sperm, and structural problems in the uterus and Fallopian tubes can all affect the outcome (i.e. if the Fallopian tubes are completely blocked, IUI will not work). Your doctor may recommend medications or hormone injections ahead of the procedure to improve your chances of success.

Some couples get pregnant the first time. Others may have to undergo the procedure multiple times. Most doctors recommend trying IUI three to six times before determining its effectiveness.

If IUI is not successful, your doctor may recommend IVF or another fertility treatment option.