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ART Overview

The two main methods for getting pregnant with help from science are IUI and IVF. However, since you may see the variations on these methods (and of course, their acronyms) mentioned often, here's a quick list of each one and how they differ.

Artificial Insemination

Artificial insemination (AI) means simply that sperm is squirted into the female reproductive tract, rather than having intercourse. Sometimes AI is shown as AIH or AID, indicating whether husband or donor sperm is used.

IUI - Intra-Uterine Insemination
Sperm is deposited into the uterus (womb). From here, sperm must make their way into the fallopian tubes to reach the egg. IUI is by far the most common form of artificial insemination, and is used with MicroSort or Ericsson.

Pregnancy rates vary widely, depending on the mother's age, use of fertility drugs, sperm quality, and other factors, but is usually considered to be around 10% to 20%.

ICI - Intra-Cervical Insemination

Sperm is deposited around the cervix, the entrance to the uterus. From here, sperm must make their way through the uterus and into the fallopian tubes to reach the egg. A soft sponge cap may be placed over the cervix to keep the sperm in place for a few hours.

Cheaper than IUI, but also has a lower pregnancy rate than IUI.

IVI - Intra-Vaginal Insemination
(also known as TBM - Turkey Baster Method)
Sperm is deposited in the vagina, just as it would be during intercourse. Sperm must make their way through the vagina, cervix, and uterus, then into the fallopian tubes to meet the egg. Sperm does not have to be washed for IVI, but washing increases success rates. IVI can be done either by a doctor, or at home, by one of two methods:
  • Using a sterile syringe without a needle
  • Using a fitted cervical cap
This method is sometimes used with at-home gender selection attempts. The pregnancy rate is low, probably 5% to 10%.
ITI - Intra-Tubal Insemination
Sperm is deposited directly in the fallopian tubes. The fallopian tubes are reached in one of two ways:
  • IFI - Intra-Fallopian Insemination. A slender tube (catheter) is inserted through the vagina, cervix, and uterus, and into one or both fallopian tubes.
  • SIFT - Sperm Intra-Fallopian Transfer. Using laparoscopic surgery, an incision is made in the abdomen and sperm are placed in the fallopian tubes with a catheter. (Almost the same as GIFT, below.)
ITI is more invasive and expensive than IUI, and rarely performed. Experts disagree about whether pregnancy rates are higher than IUI, or about the same.

IVF and Variations

Several parts of the IVF process can be varied, creating a whole new batch of abbreviations.

IVF - In-Vitro Fertilization
Eggs are retrieved from the mother, and mixed with the father's sperm. The resulting embryos are incubated 3 days to 5 days, then transferred to the mother's uterus. Usually, the embryos are incubated 3 days, followed by an "embryo transfer". If the embryos are incubated 5 days, they are now called blastocysts, and the transfer is called a "blastocyst transfer".
ICSI - Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection
Same as IVF, except that instead of just mixing sperm and egg together, a single sperm is selected and injected into the egg. Although only one step is different, sometimes this is called an "ICSI cycle" instead of an "IVF cycle".
GIFT - Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer
Eggs are sperm are collected from the parents, but instead of being mixed in the lab, they are placed together in the mother's fallopian tube. Fertilization occurs inside the mother, just as it would naturally. (Eggs and sperm are called gametes, thus the name.) GIFT is more expensive than conventional IVF because laparoscopic surgery is required to reach the fallopian tubes. However, some people with ethical or religious objections to IVF find GIFT acceptable, because no embryos are created in the lab. The invention of GIFT is credited to Dr. Landrum Shettles. The pregnancy rate for GIFT is about the same as IVF, but GIFT is now performed very rarely .
FET - Frozen Embryo Transfer
When extra embryos are available during an IVF cycle, they can be frozen for future use (to try again, if the current cycle is unsuccessful, or to have another child later). In a FET cycle, a previously frozen embryo is thawed and transferred.
ZIFT - Zygote Intra-Fallopian Transfer
The same as IVF, except: a) Embryos are incubated for only 24 hours. (A 1-day embryo is called a zygote.) and b) Embryos are placed in the mother's fallopian tubes, using laparoscopic surgery. More expensive than IVF and performed very rarely.
TET - Tubal Embryo Transfer
Same as ZIFT, but with a 3-day embryo.