While turkey basters may not help you get pregnant, you don't need to have sex to conceive. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is an assisted reproductive technology that involves a doctor injecting sperm directly into the uterus.
The turkey baster has an interesting role in pop culture. On one hand, it’s a respected tool used to keep your turkey moist at Thanksgiving. On the other, there are countless depictions of women taking their pregnancy into their own hands (literally) and using turkey basters filled with sperm to get the job done — a version of the method now known as intrauterine insemination (IUI).
If you’ve watched
Jane the Virgin, you likely remember the pivotal scene where an unexpected character (no spoilers!) chooses to self-inseminate with a turkey baster.
The urban myth that women can use turkey basters to get pregnant has a basis in truth—it has certainly been tried in the past, and has actually been championed as an accessible means for reproductive agency,
as journalist Christine Ro reports—but it’s not a tried-and-true method for conception.
Today, when someone refers to the turkey baster method of insemination, they’re really talking about intrauterine insemination. If you’ve been trying everything you can to get pregnant without success, or you’re attempting to have a non-traditional pregnancy, a fertility specialist might recommend that you try IUI out yourself.
But what exactly
is intrauterine insemination? It can be so hard to keep track of all the acronyms when it comes to pregnancy… What is IUI How it works IVF vs. IUI The procedure Success rate Should I try IUI? What is intrauterine insemination?
Intrauterine insemination is a fertility strategy that involves a doctor placing healthy, viable sperm directly inside the uterus. This makes it easier for the sperm to reach the egg and fertilize it.
This artificial insemination option is often used by individuals and queer couples looking to conceive. It is also used in conjunction with other medications by people who have diagnosed fertility concerns and want to ensure that both the egg and the sperm are in good condition.
How does IUI work?
The first step in IUI is “cleaning” the sperm sample. This means that doctors inspect and wash the sperm, making sure that flawed specimens and other imperfections are weeded out and only high-quality sperm are included in the sample.
Once the sperm is clean, it is placed directly into the uterus using a speculum. From that point, the sperm and the body take over. The goal is for the sperm cell to drive its way up the fallopian tube and meet a waiting egg cell.
The timing is important here: IUI needs to be conducted within a few days of the start of ovulation. For that reason, other medications can often be used to induce ovulation, so that the timing is just right for sperm and egg to meet.
What’s the difference between IUI vs. IVF?
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) and
in-vitro fertilization (IVF) are two different means of artificial insemination.
IUI is a less invasive process but also has a lower success rate. During IUI, sperm is inserted into the vagina via a speculum, which means the fertilization is happening inside the body. It is usually one of the first strategies fertility specialists advise when couples are having trouble conceiving.
IVF, on the other hand, involves the extraction of eggs from the vagina via a needle. In the IVF process, the eggs are then fertilized outside of the body. This strategy is more often recommended in cases where one or both partners are experiencing fertility concerns such as anovulatory cycles, fallopian tube damage, poor semen quality, or endometriosis.
Often doctors, and insurance providers, require that couples navigating
infertility try multiple rounds of IUI before attempting IVF. What is the IUI procedure like?
Here’s what you can expect from the IUI procedure:
First, you’ll get your feet into those stirrups, and your health care provider will place a speculum inside your vagina to hold it open during the procedure, just like getting a Pap test. Next, they will insert a catheter (think: tiny turkey baster) into your vagina, with the healthy sperm contained inside it. The catheter then finds its way through the cervical opening and all the way into the uterus. There, the provider will unload the sperm. They’ll ask you to lie down for a couple minutes after it’s done, and then you’ll be on your way. The whole process takes less than three minutes. What is the IUI procedure for home IUI?
Home IUI is also possible if you’re not interested in having a professional handle the artificial insemination. Instead of a catheter, you can use a needless syringe to unload the sperm into vagina rather than your uterus.
While the procedure can be done from the comfort of your home, it requires careful handling of the sperm and precise monitoring of when you’re ovulating.
Does IUI hurt?
Luckily, you don’t need to be put under during IUI, and pain medication is rarely used. You might have some minor discomfort during the procedure, and you may end up spotting for a few hours after it’s done; but overall, IUI is very quick and relatively painless.
IUI Success Rate
Two weeks after your procedure, you should be able to take a pregnancy test and see whether the IUI procedure was successful. Before that point, the results will not be reliable.
>>MORE: What Not to Do During the Two-Week Wait
Intrauterine insemination is typically successful after a few rounds of cycles. According to a
2003 study, 88% of pregnancies came after the third cycle, and 95.5% within the first four. The donor IUI success rate is the same for heterosexual women, single women, and lesbians. Should I try IUI?
Your doctor might suggest you look into IUI if:
You and your partner are both under 35, and you’ve been having unprotected heterosexual sex for over a year without a successful pregnancy You and your partner are above 35, and you’ve been having unprotected heterosexual sex for over six months without a successful pregnancy You are using a sperm donor to conceive Your partner has mild male factor infertility Your cervix is scarred
With that said, intrauterine insemination isn’t always the right choice for every person’s body. Some people looking to conceive should instead look to IUI alternatives or additional measures, like IVF or sperm or egg donors.
Looking to those alternatives is advised if:
You have severe endometriosis Your partner has severe male factor infertility You are experiencing fallopian tube disease You have a history of “pelvic adhesions” You have gone through IUI treatments multiple times Takeaway
Okay, so the answer to the question of whether people actually use turkey basters to get pregnant is a resounding “No.” Most people opt for the safer route instead and trust their doctors about trying out intrauterine insemination.
If that’s you, make sure to remember that IUI can often be the
first step on a long road—so don’t lose hope if your doctor suggests it, and don’t lose hope if it doesn’t work the first time.
There are many more routes toward a successful pregnancy, and sometimes
combatting infertility is just about finding the right route for your body.