TTC Tips: 5 things to know about donor insemination

By Michelle Ottey, PhD

Michelle is Laboratory Director at Fairfax Cryobank, a US-based licensed donor sperm bank. Founded in 1986, it provides one of the largest selections of donors, donor information products, and storage solutions for clients in over 40 countries, including the UK. To view their listing in our database, click here.

It takes three things to have a child: an egg, sperm, and a uterus.

But there are many ways to create a family.

One way is to use donor sperm to inseminate the woman providing the egg (and who will then carry the pregnancy once fertilisation has taken place).

If you’re considering donor insemination, here are some of the things you need to know:

1. You’ll need to find a clinic to manage your fertility treatment using donor sperm

This is the first step once your decision to build a family has been made. Your chosen clinic will advise you on the best insemination procedure  – either Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) or Intracervical Insemination (ICI).

It is important that you choose a clinic that meets your needs and is sensitive to your fertility journey. Working with a trusted provider is especially important for those in the LGBTQ+ community and single individuals working to build their families.

2. IUI or ICI? What’s the difference?

The chance of falling pregnant naturally, in any given month, is 5-25%, depending on many variables including the recipient’s age, overall health, and individual fertility.

Insemination using donor sperm for an Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) in a healthy recipient under 35 years old has a success rate of around 12%. In IUI, sperm that has been washed is inserted directly into the uterus, via a catheter.

In ICI, sperm samples have not been washed, so the sperm is unpurified and still contains all the naturally occurring ejaculate fluids.  Sperm is placed on the cervix, rather than in the uterus as in IUI, and as a result this treatment type has slightly lower rates of success.  [It’s important to be aware that ICI sperm samples should not be used in IUI as the seminal fluid contains hormones that cause cramping if it enters the uterus].

Sperm Banks can provide both IUI-and ICI-prepared samples for recipients. And your clinic will help you decide which is the best treatment option for you.

3. There are some key things to look for when sourcing a Sperm Bank

Once you’ve found your clinic and have agreed best treatment plan for you, finding a trusted Sperm Bank is the next important step.

Your fertility clinic might be able to give you some reliable recommendations, and in choosing it’s important to consider:

  • reputation
  • extent of genetic screening and infectious disease testing
  • sperm quality standard
  • vial buy-back policy
  • storage options
  • number of families per donor
  • and the Sperm Bank’s process for connecting offspring to ID donors, among other things.

Sperm Banks are highly regulated and are required to perform screening and infectious disease testing on all donor candidates and on donors in their donor program, but it’s useful to keep the above checklist handy to ensure you’ve covered your bases when comparing Sperm Banks.

4. Not sure how to choose your ideal donor? Write a list!

You’ve many options to choose from when looking for your ideal donor match. Creating a list of desired characteristics and physical qualities is an easy way to get started.

Recipients often start their search looking for sperm donors with similar family origins/ethnicities, or with physical characteristics like height, eye colour, hair colour. There are numerous products that can help you make your choice. You can view photos, listen to audio interviews, read staff impressions, read essays from the donors, or here at Fairfax Cryobank even do a FaceMatch™ that will provide ranked options based on a photo that is uploaded.

Once you’ve identified a donor, it’s a simple process of ordering the number of sperm vials needed.

Bear in mind that if you think you might like to have more than one child and for the children to be full siblings, you should order multiple vials.

Your clinic will advise on the sperm preparation type that will be needed, most often IUI. [Though it is important to note that ICI prep vials may be purchased and washed at one’s clinic to be used for IUI].

5. It’s a unique and special journey

Finding a donor match bearing characteristics and qualities you value in an individual and knowing that the donor has been tested and screened to the highest standards can be a really rewarding process.

And, if you’ve a partner, choosing a donor together is one way to ensure you’re both involved in the conception process. Your partner may also be present for inseminations which can be an intimate and special moment.

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