Donor sperm use—also called donor insemination—is the process of using another man’s voluntarily donated sperm in order to conceive a baby. This is one possible path to parenthood for single women, those who are LGBTQ, and those with male infertility disorders like low sperm count, no sperm, or an inheritable genetic problem.
There are two main conception methods using donor sperm:
- Intracervical insemination places sperm into the cervix
- Intrauterine insemination places sperm directly into the uterus, and can increase success rates with frozen sperm
Donor sperm can also be used in in-vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technology procedures.
~60% become pregnant with donor sperm, but 6 or more cycles may be needed*
*Khalil M, Rasmussen P, Erb K, et al. Intrauterine insemination with donor semen. An evaluation of prognostic factors based on a review of 1131 cycles. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2001;80:342-348.
Choosing a sperm donor
You can typically choose the sperm bank you wish to use. You’ll be able to review characteristics like hair and eye color, height, and ethnicity—sometimes, a photo of the donor is available. Health information is provided, and information on educational background and career history may also be included
What women can expect
If you’re a female interested in conceiving with donor sperm, a physical exam and laboratory testing will be conducted to evaluate your reproductive health. These may include:
- Uterine procedures to check for infections and other issues that could impact pregnancy
- Blood tests to ensure there are no compatibility issues between your blood type and that of the sperm donor
You (and your partner, if you are coupled) will also go through pretreatment counseling to help you understand procedure expectations, risks, and success rates, as well as the mental, emotional, and social aspects of using a donor.
How do I know donated sperm is healthy?
Healthy donor sperm reduces the risk of harmful effects to the pregnant woman and the fetus. Sperm donors provide a medical history and are tested for diseases that can be transmitted through semen, including:
- Streptococcal bacteria
- Herpes (CMV)
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine requires anonymous donor sperm to be frozen and stored for 180 days or more before being used. This allows for a quarantine period during which samples are frozen and stored for a minimum of six months, at which point the donor will be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
The woman receiving the sperm undergoes testing to ensure she can physically manage pregnancy. A donor is selected from the sperm bank.
The sperm recipient’s ovulation cycle is monitored by testing her urine for luteinizing hormone (LH), which increases before ovulation. Once an LH surge is detected, the clinic will prepare for insemination within 24 hours.
The frozen sperm is carefully thawed. If intrauterine insemination is being done, the sperm is processed to remove the seminal plasma around the sperm to avoid an allergic response in the woman.
Intracervical or intrauterine insemination is done in the clinic and may seem similar to a gynecological exam. The doctor will use a tool called a speculum to open the vagina before releasing semen from a catheter into the cervix or uterus. The woman remains lying down for 15 to 20 minutes.
With intracervical insemination, the sperm is placed at the opening of the cervix with a straw or a cap. The cervical cap may remain in the cervical canal for a few hours to help hold the sperm in place.
After insemination comes a 9 to 12 day waiting period before a pregnancy test can be taken, known as the “two-week wait.” This can be a difficult time, filled with hope and anxiety. Building a support network can help you during this time.
If you get the joyous news of a positive pregnancy test, your clinic will continue to monitor the pregnant woman until around the 10th week of pregnancy.
Donor insemination is most successful for women under 35 who don’t have infertility problems and whose partner has a very low sperm count or an absence of sperm in the semen. To improve your chances, your clinic may do more than one insemination per ovulation cycle.
Many women like to have their partner or a loved one with them during the insemination process; other women prefer to read a book or listen to music to pass the time.
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