What is Sperm Washing?
Sperm washing is a procedure used to prepare sperm for use in IUI. It allows your partner’s sperm a better chance for survival and fertilization. Sperm washing separates sperm cells from a man’s semen, helping to get rid of dead or slow-moving sperm as well as additional chemicals that may impair fertilization.
Why Sperm Washing is Necessary?
Sperm must be washed in order to be used with IUI. Raw semen cannot be inserted directly into a woman’s uterus. This is because semen contains chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins cause muscular contractions and are responsible for cramps during menstruation and pregnancy.
This leaves behind sperm that can swim faster and that are more likely to fertilize your egg.
Who Can Benefit From Sperm Washing?
Anyone who pursues IUI will receive the sperm washing procedure. However, the procedure can also benefit others, especially those with
- Unexplained infertility
- Male-factor infertility
- Women with endometriosis
- Men with antisperm antibodies
Sperm Washing Procedures
There are three commonly-used sperm washing techniques.
Simple Sperm Wash
Semen is diluted in a test tube with a special solution of antibiotics and protein supplements. It is then placed in a centrifuge, a machine that spins around at extremely high speeds. As the sperm mixture is spun, sperm cells fall to the bottom of the test tube, producing a mass of dense, highly active sperm. These sperm can then be removed from the test tube and used in IUI. A simple sperm wash takes about 20 to 40 minutes.
Density Gradient Sperm Wash
The density gradient sperm wash is one of the most popular sperm washing methods. This is because it also works to separate dead sperm cells, white blood cells, and other waste products from the sperm.
A test tube is filled with multiple layers of liquids of different densities. Semen is then placed on the top layer of liquid and the test tube is spun in a centrifuge. After it is spun, active, healthy sperm will make their way to the very bottom layer of liquid in the test tube, while debris and dead sperm will get caught in the top two layers. These layers can be siphoned off in order to remove the active sperm from the test tube. This sperm is then used in the IUI procedure. Density gradient sperm washes take approximately 60 minutes.
Swim Up Technique
The swim up technique is rapidly becoming more and more popular throughout American fertility clinics. This technique revolves around the fact that sperm need to swim forwards and up in order to reach the uterus. Only the most powerful sperm will be able to do this. In order to retrieve this powerful sperm, semen is placed in a culture dish with a layer of media culture. Sperm are attracted to this culture, and will swim up to it. As the sperm swim up to the culture, they are collected. This technique takes about two hours in order to harvest enough sperm for use in IUI.