Of all the technologies that can help couples get pregnant, the relative simplicity and relatively lower costs of intrauterine insemination (IUI) makes it an attractive option for couples who would otherwise have trouble getting pregnant. But is it really the answer for you if you want to get pregnant? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons of IUI and have a look at how successful it is.
How high is an IUI success rate?
The success rate of IUI varies on a number of factors, such as the age of the women, and whether ovulation is natural or induced.
It’s no surprise that fertility goes down with age, but this also applies to IUI. According to a UK study, women using IUI with donor sperm had the following odds of conceiving a live birth in a given treatment cycle1:
- Under 35: 15.8%
- Ages 35 to 39: 11.0%
- Ages 40 to 42: 4.7%
- Ages 43 to 44: 1.2%
- Over 44: 0%
The drop-off in success rates after 40 means that older prospective moms may be referred to IVF as a first-line fertility treatment rather than starting with IUI.
Natural or medicated ovulation
Fertility doctors will usually recommend timing IUI with natural ovulation for women with no known fertility problems. For couples with unexplained infertility problems, the odds of getting pregnant with natural cycle IUIs are not much better than with regular intercourse. However, when combined with a course of fertility drugs, the odds of conceiving are around 20% per cycle.
Can you increase IUI success rates?
The most important factor in getting pregnant with IUI is timing – and that’s on two accounts. Firstly, you will need to be in the right age group to see the best outcomes, so if you’re thinking of IUI as a fertility treatment, it might be best to have that conversation with your partner and healthcare provider sooner rather than later to work out what your options are.
Secondly, the timing of the insemination procedure itself matters, even more than if you’re trying to conceive through intercourse, since the “washed” sperm cells prepared in IUI have a shorter lifespan than their unwashed sperm cells. The IUI procedure needs to be carried out as close as possible to ovulation time, so the washed sperm cells can make a bee-line for the egg cell.
If it’s safe for you, a provider will sometimes offer ovulation drugs as a way to control the timing, hopefully getting you pregnant sooner even if you have normal fertility levels.
General lifestyle can also make a big difference in maintaining the healthy hormone balance that makes it easy for a fertilized egg to implant safely into the uterine wall.
You may want to take a look at lifestyle factors, such as your diet and exercise levels. For instance, alcohol and tobacco are known to make it more difficult to become pregnant. Supplementing your diet with folic acid is also recommended whenever you’re trying to conceive, to make sure your baby gets all the protection they need to avoid birth defects like anencephaly and spina bifida.
What can men do for IUI success rates?
- Take a men’s pre-conception supplement. Research suggests that nutrients such as zinc and folic acid have a beneficial effect on men’s sperm quality.
- Keep the testes cool and comfortable, but rest assured there’s no need to switch to boxers or go commando.
If you’re using donor sperm from a reputable sperm bank, you can rest assured they’ve taken all care to make sure it’s in the best condition possible. However, if you’re conceiving using sperm from your partner (or someone you know), he can help out with the semen sample.
To be most effective, the fresh semen sample should be provided within 2 hours of the procedure. Once a fresh semen sample is ready, it needs to be kept close to body temperature until you get to the clinic, such as in a clothing pocket.
Stay optimistic and realistic about IUI success rates
Intrauterine insemination isn’t the right road to pregnancy for every couple. However, it’s a relatively inexpensive way for couples to conceive where they otherwise might have trouble. If you’re considering starting a round of fertility treatment, you may want to have a discussion with your doctor about whether you’re a suitable candidate for IUI success.