At least weakly, I get asked about the “turkey baster” method of getting pregnant. While many people refer to an intrauterine insemination (IUI) as the “turkey baster” method, these two are quite different.
When people think about a turkey baster, they assume this involves taking the sperm and squirting it into the vagina. However, this is NOT how an IUI works.
In fact, an IUI is a sophisticated form of assisted reproductive technology (ART) that increases the chances of pregnancy, particularly in cases of male factor.
An IUI involves taking sperm after a male ejaculates, and revitalizing it using culture medium. This medium contains proteins and nutrients to ensure sperm remain viable. The better swimming sperm are separated from the non-swimming sperm and other debris. The higher quality sperm are then placed into a tiny syringe, which is attached to a long catheter. This long catheter is essential to allow entry into the uterus, where the sperm is placed.
- An IUI starts with a pap smear like procedure. A speculum is placed within the vagina to visualize the cervix (or opening to the uterus).
- The cervix is narrow tunnel opens to the uterus. The catheter must traverse through the opening of the cervix, throughout the narrow tunnel of the cervix, and into the uterus.
- Within the uterus, the catheter is placed in the upper one third of the uterus. The processed and concentrated sperm are then injected into the uterus, by slowly depressing the syringe. The sperm are typically positioned within the top of the uterus.
- Here, the sperm must still navigate their way into the fallopian tubes to find the egg.
- IUI shortens the distance the sperm have to swim to find the egg, which is the main difference compared to achieving pregnancy naturally.
In fact, the best way to describe an IU, is that it gives sperm a head start in the race to find the egg.
IUI can be helpful in cases of male factor infertility. A semen analysis is an assessment that can diagnose problems with the concentration of sperm or identify low sperm counts. The semen analysis can also diagnose problems with sperm motility, meaning how well sperm swim. An IUI helps overcome problems with borderline sperm counts, or low sperm motility.
IUI is overall a low risk procedure. Some possible risks include: pain or cramping during or after the IUI, spotting, risk of infection or risk of uterine perforation (where the catheter can go through the wall of the uterus). Uterine perforation is exceedingly rare with IUI procedures.
Frequently, IUI is combined with treatment for the female partner. In these “IUI cycles,” female patients are often given pills, or injections of hormones, or the combination of the two, to allow them to ovulate more than one egg per cycle. This helps increase the chances of conceiving. Ovulation is monitored via blood work and/or ultrasounds and the IUI is then performed at the optimal timing for ovulation.
Success rates for IUI vary based on the female’s age. Typical ranges of success for IUI are between 10-20 percent per cycle for women less than 40 years old. Success rate declines after the age of 40.
As always, its best to talk to your doctor or a fertility specialist to see if IUI is a good option for you.
I am a board-certified Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility physician and Ob/Gyn who has been treating infertility patients since 2014. I have a boutique private practice in Orange County, and focus on providing patients with the most personalized approach to fertility care.
After graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California, Irvine, I received my medical degree from University of South Alabama, College of Medicine where I graduated in the top of her class.
I then completed my residency training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Southern California. There I received tremendous experience in all facets of Obstetrics and Gynecology, but specifically had an interest in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. I continued my medical training and pursued a subspecialty in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Rutgers, New Jersey Medical School.
After my fellowship, I moved back to my hometown in Orange County and practiced at Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, as well as Eden Centers for Advanced Fertility in Newport Beach.
But I was passionate about providing my patients with the most personalized approach to fertility services and treatments, and therefore I opened up my own practice in 2020. My practice mission is to ensure patients feel comfortable and cared for, since infertility treatments can be overwhelming.