IVF vs IUI: Which Option is Right For You?

African American couple holding hands talking to a doctor for with a clipboard in his hand

In the world of trying to conceive (TTC) acronyms, different procedures, medications, and vocabulary can all start to sound the same: IVF, IUI, ICSI, TTC, 2WW – the list goes on and on. 

Take IVF vs. IUI, for example.  

While you might be familiar with the jargon, there’s a good chance you have no idea what they are or, most importantly, how they’re different?

Infertility treatment options vary, but understanding what they are for and what they can do is the first step in picking the right protocol for you.

Luckily for you, we’ve got all the information you need to make an educated choice for your family!

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IVF vs IUI: What Does it All Mean?

When my husband and I started our family-building process, we already knew fertility treatments were a part of the plan. With his paralysis and my PCOS infertility, getting pregnant naturally wasn’t in the cards. 

However, despite knowing we’d need reproductive assistance, I’ll never forget the confusion I felt during our first appointment with our amazing fertility specialist.

She started spitting out all of these names and letters, and I frantically wondered if there was some type of pre-treatment language course I’d missed out on before setting our appointment.

She could see the frantic stress spreading across my face and broke it down for me:

IVF vs. IUI – that was the decision we needed to make.

But what were they, aside from a random grouping of letters? How was I supposed to figure out which one I wanted to choose to start my family if I didn’t even KNOW what the damn letters stood for?

If you’re experiencing this same kind of frustration, we’re here to help. Let us simplify the chaos and give you the CLEAR information you need to make a conformed decision on how to get pregnant. 

Before we dive into a nitty-gritty comparison of the two, though, let’s break down the basic definition of each treatment. 

Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)

Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is often a first-step infertility treatment option – it’s also sometimes referred to as the “turkey baster method.”

Don’t be alarmed, though – your doctor won’t actually be hitting up the kitchen for medical devices.

During this procedure, your doctor will place a vial of processed sperm onto the end of a catheter. While you sit with your legs in stirrups, the doctor will guide the catheter into your uterus and place the sperm directly inside.

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) 

In vitro fertilization (IVF), your cycle is much more involved than IUI. This is because it requires the collection of mature eggs. To do this, doctors utilize various medications to stimulate the ovaries and then retrieve the eggs during a non-invasive surgery.

Once the lab has the eggs, they will place them inside a petri dish with the sperm for fertilization. Then, as the embryos develop, technicians will grade them and choose the best ones for a pain-free embryo transfer procedure. 

Doctors will then place the embryos directly into the uterus using the same type of catheter required for IUI transfers. 

A microscope with a petri dish in the center of the microscope. A scientist wearing blue gloves has a needle in hand
Wonder what to choose when it comes to IVF vs. IUI? We’re giving you all the information so you can make the best choice for you!

Breaking Down the Differences Between Female Infertility Treatment Processes

So, now that you know which is which and what they are, it’s time to start digging into the IVF vs. IUI pros and cons. From cost to success rates, we’re going to dive into a comparison of these two unique treatment protocols. 

1. IVF vs. IUI: Cost

As you consider IVF vs. IUI, cost is likely going to be one of the most significant deciding factors. 

Since most insurance companies won’t cover infertility treatment, you’re probably going to pay out-of-pocket for much of the process. Finding a solution that’s within your financial means is crucial. 

When money talks and you’re searching for cost-effective solutions, IUI wins the IVF vs. IUI cost debate. IUI costs an average of $300 – $1,000 without insurance coverage. 

Since IVF includes more steps and requires an increased number of medications, it is significantly more expensive. On average, a single fresh IVF cycle costs $10,000 – $15,000. The price is typically lower if you’re using frozen embryos but still more than IUI.

2. IVF vs. IUI: Side Effects

Poor IVF – it’s getting hit hard in this comparison and contrast so far. When it comes to the side effects of these two standard fertility protocols, IVF is much more challenging than its competitor.

Aside from a rare risk of infection and possible spotting, IUI is essentially a risk-free procedure.

Comparatively, IVF can be tough on a woman’s body and poses several risks, including:

Since you’ll need to use ovarian stimulation drugs to release extra eggs before your IVF cycle, there is also a risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). This is one of the most concerning side effects of the process. Doctors require frequent bloodwork and ultrasounds to help prevent OHSS from occurring.  

3. IVF vs. IUI: Success Rates

So, with all of these hard facts about IVF, you’re probably wondering why anyone would want to use it in the first place.

Well, the answer is simple – success rates.

IVF is proven to have significantly better results than IUI. One study found the average success with IVF is 22.6%, while it’s only 6.7% with IUI. 

Yes, IVF is a much more invasive procedure. Still, depending on the severity of your fertility problems or other factors, your doctor might feel the higher chance of a positive result is worth any increased risk. 

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Which Treatment is Better for Specific Conditions and Situations?

When asking, “What is infertility?” it might seem as if infertility is a specific diagnosis.

On the contrary, it’s actually more of an umbrella term to describe a potential side effect of other fertility-related conditions, health concerns, and biological circumstances. Because of this, when you’re talking about IVF vs. IUI, the “right” answer won’t be the same in every scenario.

The information below will give a brief outline of the preferred treatment option for various situations.

1. Trying to Get Pregnant After 40

Getting pregnant naturally after 35 is not always easy with or without additional fertility problems. Some studies claim it takes an average of one to two years to conceive after your 35th birthday. 

Since there could already be challenges for those of us over 35 who are hoping to get pregnant, many experts prefer IVF as the most beneficial treatment option in the IUI vs. IVF over 40 argument. 

2. PCOS Infertility

In discussing IVF vs. IUI for PCOS, many doctors suggest these women try one or more IUI cycles first. Not only have studies proven quality success rates with this technique, but it’s a more affordable and less intense solution.

If IUI isn’t working, IVF is still a good option. 

3. Unexplained Infertility or Secondary Infertility

If your doctor can’t find a precise reason for your infertility, or if you’ve had a baby in the past but are struggling to conceive another time, IUI can be a reliable place to start.

The medications taken during an IUI cycle are often enough to help people with unexplained or secondary infertility combat their issues. 

4. Genetic Conditions

If you or your partner suffer from some type of genetic condition, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease, your doctor will likely suggest an IVF treatment protocol.

As embryos develop during an IVF cycle, lab workers can screen them for various genetic disorders. Using the information collected from these screenings, you can avoid using embryos which would pass down those genes.

Unfortunately, this option isn’t available with an IUI.

5. Male Factor Infertility

When making an IVF vs. IUI decision regarding male factor infertility, you’ll want to rely on your doctor’s advice. While you can overcome some conditions using IUI, more severe circumstances might depend on IVF treatment. 

Caucasian Couple holding hands speaking to a doctor with papers in his hand
Wondering what the difference is between IVF vs. IUI? We’re sharing everything you need to know!

Making the Most of These IVF vs. IUI Pros and Cons

Treating infertility is not always a simple thing to do – it’s no surprise that so many of us find ourselves going down an IVF vs. IUI rabbit hole. After all, when you’re committing so much time, energy, and money to a process, you want to know you’re making the best choice possible about the right path to take. 

The best thing you can do when it comes to creating a treatment plan, is to speak honestly with your infertility care provider. Make sure you can trust your team and that they listen to your concerns. A great infertility clinic is worth its weight in gold!

No matter how much research you do, no amount of statistics or advice can cover every unique situation. Using your specific fertility testing results and circumstances, your infertility team will help you choose the best infertility treatment option for your family. 

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So, which option is right for you in the debate between IVF vs. IUI? We’d love to hear from you!