An important aspect of the IUI procedure is the process of ‘washing’ the sperm before they are inserted back into your uterus. Many people think that we have a washing machine for sperm that takes the fresh semen and prepares it for IUI. In fact, it is done entirely manually by trained technicians, over a period of approximately two hours.
Fresh sperm contains not only live sperm, but also dead ones, along with secretions from the prostate gland and seminal vesicles. These secretions are designed to protect the live sperm from the acidic environment of the vagina and are necessary in normal intercourse. However, if these dead sperm and secretions are not removed, they can cause severe cramping when the sperm is injected into the uterus during the IUI procedure.
The process of sperm washing for IUI begins when the semen is diluted with a nutrient rich solution to speed up the movement of the sperm. After allowing time for the nutrients to work, the secretions and dead sperm are washed out by spinning the mixture in a centrifuge machine. A small volume containing the best sperm is now ready for the IUI to be done.
Sperms which are slightly “weak” can benefit from this washing procedure to increase their motility (movement) before IUI, but when the sperm count is very low or movement is extremely slow, the washing procedure and IUI may have no benefit. ICSI is then the only option.
One final point to remember is that at room temperature, good sperm can survive up to four hours, so sperm can be produced in the comfort of your home and brought in to the clinic within about an hour after production. Remember not to cool it in the refrigerator or ice box, as cold kills sperm. Keeping it in your pocket or handbag is sufficient.