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What is donor insemination (DI) and how does it work?

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What is DI?

Sperm after the donor insemination processDonor insemination (DI) uses sperm from a donor to help the woman become pregnant.

Sperm donors are screened for sexually transmitted diseases and some genetic disorders. In DI, sperm from the donor is placed into the neck of the womb (cervix) at the time when the woman ovulates.

DI - IUI uses intrauterine insemination with donor sperm.

Donor sperm can also be used for in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

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How does DI work?

Using donated eggs

Donated eggs can be used in either in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Read more about these treatments in the previous sections.

Before treatment takes place, you will need to complete various consent forms.

The procedure for using donated eggs varies depending on your clinic and the fertility treatment you are undergoing. A typical procedure may involve the following steps:

For women:

  1. You and your donor will be given medication to synchronise your menstrual cycles. You will also be given medication to prepare the endometrium lining of your womb for embryo transfer.
  2. The donated eggs will be fertilised using IVF or ICSI. 
  3. When the embryos begin to develop, they will be transferred to your womb as in conventional IVF. As the eggs will be from donors aged 35 or younger, no more than two embryos will be transferred.

Alternatively, the embryos may be frozen after they have been fertilised. This avoids the need to synchronise your menstrual cycle with that of the donor and may reduce the stress of the treatment.

For men:

  1. Unless you are using donor sperm, before treatment takes place you will give a sperm sample to check that your sperm are healthy and active.
  2. On the day that the eggs are collected, you will give another sperm sample.
  3. The sperm sample is mixed with the donor eggs in vitro to fertilise them, or fertilised by ICSI and then transferred to the womb.

Using your eggs in your partner’s treatment

If you are in a same sex female couple and you want to use your eggs and your partner carry the baby, the process for collecting your eggs will be as follows:

  1. After being screened for sexually transmitted diseases and some genetic disorders, you will be given a series of hormone injections to help develop and mature the eggs within the ovaries.
  2. Once the eggs are matured, they are collected while you are sedated by inserting a needle into the ovaries through the vagina.

The eggs will then be fertilised, usually using IVF.

Using donated sperm

Donated sperm can be used in intrauterine insemination (IUI) (known as donor insemination) or IVF. The treatment you have will depend on your individual circumstances.

Using donated embryos

Embryos can be donated by people who have completed their fertility treatment or by those who cannot use them in their own treatment.

How does using donated embryos work?

Before treatment takes place, you will need to complete various consent forms. The donated embryos will have previously been frozen.

Legal considerations

Legal parenthood

If you undergo treatment at a UK clinic licensed by the HFEA, the donor has no legal rights or responsibility for the child.

The woman giving birth to the child is always the legal mother when the child is born. However, if you are using donor sperm or embryos and you or your partner are not married or in a civil partnership, your partner will only be the legal parent of the child if you both complete the relevant legal parenthood consent forms before treatment.

Withdrawing consent

The sperm, egg or embryo donor can change their mind about their donation up to the point of embryo transfer or insemination. The donor can also withdraw their consent to the future use of their frozen sperm, eggs (even where embryos have been created) or embryos.

Sperm quarantine

Professional guidelines state that sperm from both known and unknown donors (or from a man you are not in an intimate physical relationship with) should be quarantined for six months before your treatment. This is to allow time to detect infections such as HIV which are sometimes only evident after a period of time. However, in some circumstances this may not be the case if your clinic checks the sperm using serological and nucleic acid amplification testing.

Telling your child about their origins

If your child or children were conceived as a result of donation, telling them about their origins can be a sensitive issue. However, if discussed honestly and at the right time, it doesn’t need to be difficult to talk about. If you, as the parent, are open about how your child was conceived there is no reason they should feel any different from any other child.

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Counselling for DI patients and partners

Counselling is regarded as being essential before DI treatment is offered to you.  

Try to talk to those who already have donor-conceived children. Whatever your situation, it can help you to talk through your feelings.

For an online source of support and guidance, you may want to contact the self-help group, the Donor Conception Network.

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Page last updated: 13 July 2015

Donor identifying information

When considering donor insemination, bear in mind that children born from sperm donated after April 2005 will, when they are 18, be able to access the HFEA’s register to find identifying information about the donor.