What even is IUI? How is it different from IVF? Will it hurt? What if it doesn’t work? These are all common yet important questions people tend to have about intrauterine insemination, or IUI. So let’s jump into it:
What is IUI?
Intrauterine insemination, or IUI, is a fertility treatment where semen is inserted directly into a woman’s uterus. The semen involved in the procedure is prewashed in order to get rid of defective cells. The goal of the procedure is to increase the number of sperm that reach the uterus which makes the sperm’s journey to fertilization easier and increases the chance of pregnancy. It is an affordable and less invasive alternative to in vitro fertilization, or IVF, but has success rates that are slightly lower. IUI can be a good option and is sometimes recommended for women with unexplained fertility, LGBTQ individuals, single women, and couples with male-factor infertility. But, as always, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about what fertility option works best for your specific needs.
Before the procedure, your doctor must ensure that it is being performed at the time of highest fertility in your ovulation cycle. They will do this by either tracking and monitoring your cycle or by prescribing medications to induce ovulation. Either way, timing the procedure so that it occurs during the 24-hour window during which your fertility is at its highest is a key part of the process.
IUI is typically a very short outpatient procedure. During the procedure, the washed sperm is drawn up into a syringe and attached to a catheter. A speculum is then inserted into the cervix in order to visualize it. Next, the catheter is inserted through the cervix and into the uterus. Once in place, the sperm is released into the uterus. Lastly, the patient will be asked to rest for around 10 minutes. 4
Most women will not feel anything during the procedure, while some may find it simply uncomfortable. It usually does not require sedation, so patients are able to drive home after and, in most cases, resume normal daily activities. Your doctor will give you instructions for what to do after your procedure.
It is often recommended that you begin acting as if you are already pregnant in the 2 weeks following the procedure before your first pregnancy test. This entails avoiding alcohol, eating healthy, drinking lots of water, getting an adequate amount of sleep, remaining active, and managing stress. It also may be a good idea to begin tracking any symptoms that you experience post-IUI.
1-3 days after: During this time, it is common to experience light spotting or cramping. Don’t confuse this with implantation bleeding. However, if any cramping or discomfort hasn’t stopped after 3 days, talk to your doctor.
6 days after: At this time, you are now approaching the implantation window. You may experience implantation bleeding in the form of light spotting. You may also experience cramping or other stomach discomfort. Other early pregnancy signs include constipation, stomach discomfort, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, breast tenderness, and exhaustion.
However, most women do not experience symptoms until several days after implantation. So don’t worry if you don’t have symptoms yet because it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t pregnant! For most women, the first symptom isn’t until they miss their period.
14 days after: 2 weeks after your procedure, it is time to return to the doctor for a pregnancy test! At this time, your hormone levels should be high enough to warrant a positive test. You are welcome to take at-home tests before then, but they will not be as accurate as the test administered by a doctor. If your test is negative and you still end up missing your period, you may be tested again. If it is positive, your doctor will monitor your hormones and eventually transfer you to another doctor at the end of your first trimester.
Overall, IUI is a procedure with few risks and most women experience no major side effects. Ultimately, listen to your doctor when it comes to what to do and what to expect after your procedure and call if your symptoms seem unusual or if you experience persistent pain or discomfort.
The Bottom Line
For many women, the hardest part of the post-IUI process is the waiting and hoping during the two weeks following your procedure. It is very common to experience anxiety and eager participation waiting for the first pregnancy test done by your doctor. Be sure to take time for yourself to manage and reduce your stress. Surround yourself with people who you trust that make you feel comfortable and calm. It may be a good idea to find distractions for yourself during this time, such as meditation, a fun vacation, or even just a soothing walk around the neighborhood. This is the time to take care of yourself!
What if It’s Unsuccessful?
If you don’t get pregnant, don’t worry. And don’t give up! It’s normal. In fact, you should mentally prepare for a negative test so that you don’t lose your positive energy. Many women go through 3-6 cycles of IUI before a successful attempt. Your doctor may recommend trying another cycle and possibly adding medications (if applicable).
The success rates of IUI are very dependent on age and circumstances. Generally, women with unexplained fertility have about a 20-25% chance of pregnancy over a few cycles. Women under 35 years of age who did IUI due to irregular periods can see up to a 50% success rate across 3-6 cycles. So it is very common to go through the process many times before being successful.
But, if IUI doesn’t work for you, remember that there are still many other options! Some doctors recommend reconsidering IUI and examining other options after 3 unsuccessful IUI attempts. Talk to a doctor to make sure you are picking the right procedures. Our Mate Fertility team could be your first step at finding what will work best for you!