Artificial insemination is a treatment for infertility, when a couple cannot conceive a baby. It involves directly inserting sperm into a woman’s womb.
It is most commonly used as part of a Donor Insemination (DI) programme, where donated sperm is used.
Artificial insemination on the NHS
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that up to six cycles of IUI treatment on the NHS may be offered if:
- you are unable (or would find it very difficult) to have vaginal intercourse, for example because of a physical disability
- you have a condition (such as a viral infection that can be sexually transmitted) that means you need specific help to conceive
- you are in a same-sex relationship
Previously, IUI treatment on the NHS was offered if:
- a man has mild fertility problems
- a woman has mild endometriosis
- a couple has unexplained infertility
However, new guidelines released in 2013 state that IUI should no longer be offered in these circumstances. Instead, you should be advised to keep trying to conceive through regular unprotected sexual intercourse for a total of two years. After this time you may be offered in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
The availability of this fertility treatment on the NHS varies throughout the UK. In some areas, the waiting list for treatment can be very long. The criteria that must be met to be eligible for treatment can also vary.
IUI is also available from some private fertility clinics. Costs vary from £500 to £1,000 for each cycle of treatment.
Each cycle of IUI is timed to coincide with the woman’s natural reproductive cycle, so you will only be able to receive one cycle of IUI treatment a month.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI)
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the technique used for artificial insemination, and it has a good record of success.
Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in 2006 suggest that intrauterine insemination (IUI) has a success rate of around 15% for each cycle of treatment. This estimate is based on women under 35 years of age using donor sperm.
As with most other types of fertility treatment, the younger a woman is, the greater her chance of having a successful pregnancy. Other things that can affect the success of IUI include:
- sperm count and sperm quality – using fresh sperm is associated with higher conception rates than frozen and thawed sperm
- technical aspects of IUI, such as working out the time of ovulation correctly
Read about when artificial insemination is used for more information on the timing of IUI.
How is IUI performed?
In IUI, a man provides a sample of sperm, which is then washed and filtered using special techniques. This ensures that only the highest-quality motile sperm are used for the procedure.
During the procedure, the concentrated sperm is passed directly into the woman’s womb through a thin tube called a catheter.
Read more about how artificial insemination is performed.
It is not recommended to use fertility medication in combination with IUI. This is because there are associated risks such as a higher chance of multiple pregnancy.
Read more about the risks associated with multiple pregnancies.
If the male partner cannot produce healthy sperm, frozen sperm from a donor can be considered, although this is a personal decision.
In rare cases, couples obtain donated sperm from someone they know. However, in most cases, sperm is obtained and treatment is carried out at a registered or licensed sperm bank.
In the past, sperm donors remained anonymous from the parents and the child produced by the donated sperm. However, in 2005, the law regarding donor anonymity changed.
Anyone born from donated sperm after April 1 2005 can apply to HFEA to obtain information about the identity of the donor, once they have reached 18 years of age. They can apply for non-identifying information before this.
The HFEA is the independent regulator for all fertility clinics in the UK. If you are considering donor insemination (DI) you can visit the HFEA website for more information or to find your local fertility centre.