If you are having trouble conceiving a child, you may consider getting some advice and assistance from experts about alternative ways to become pregnant.

Two common procedures used in infertility are Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In-vitro Fertilization (IVF). According to Jennifer Nichols, DO, of Abington Reproductive Medicine in Pennsylvania, both increase the success of conceiving. IUI increases the chance of the sperm finding the egg within a woman's body, while during IVF, the sperm and eggs are merged outside the body and the growing embryo(s) are placed back into the uterus. Either way, the ultimate goal is the same: the birth of a healthy baby.

There are many reasons why making a baby can be harder for some people than for others. Blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, endometriosis, irregular cycles or problems with ovulation, and low sperm count or motility are just some of the conditions that can delay your plans to have a family. The specialized medical field of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility offers a number of potential solutions, however, depending on the exact cause of infertility. These include IUI and IVF.

Here's an overview of the two procedures—what they entail and who they benefit.

Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)

While IUI is the less complicated procedure of the two—the actual insemination only takes about five minutes—it can only be used if a woman's fallopian tubes are not damaged, shown with a normal HSG, and there are adequate number of sperm.

When it's used: IUI is most often used when there is a problem with cervical mucus, decreased sperm count or motility, or unexplained infertility.

How it works: Timing is everything when it comes to IUI. While the mother-to-be is ovulating, and eggs are naturally travelling down her fallopian tubes, specially processed sperm from a partner or donor is injected directly into her uterus. The sperm may be collected at home or in the office, but must be held at body temperature at all times, and delivered to the medical team within an hour of collection. The sperm is washed to concentrate those with higher motility, which are then placed in the uterus, close to the ovulated egg(s).

How well it works: Success rates with IUI can be as high as 20 percent per cycle, depending on additional medications used, the age of the mother, and other factors.

In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

IVF is a more complex procedure and involves many more steps than IUI. In a nutshell, the eggs and sperm are collected and combined in a specialized IVF laboratory, either in a petri dish (conventional insemination) or under a microscope (in a procedure known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection, or ICSI).

When it's used: IVF is sometimes used as a first-line treatment for women over age 40, and for those with health conditions, including fallopian tube damage or blockage, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, genetic disorders, and unexplained fertility. The procedure is usually tried after less invasive options have been unsuccessful.

How it works: Hormonal treatments are used to induce development of multiple eggs, which are then collected from the woman's body and held in an incubator while awaiting insemination. Three to five days after insemination, fertilized eggs that have developed into high-quality embryos are then inserted back into the uterus for implantation. Precise timing and careful monitoring are essential, although age still plays a critical role in the overall success of IVF.

How well it works: IVF success rates far exceed anything nature or other treatments can lead to, Dr. Nichols points out, with 2011 statistics showing pregnancy rates in women under age 35 at 46 percent and a live birth rate of 40 percent.

Jennifer Nichols, DO, reviewed this article.



Abington Reproductive Medicine

Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology