Not having a lifelong partner shouldn’t be an obstacle from becoming a parent. It has now become increasingly common for individuals to start growing a family on their own timeline and without a partner. Becoming pregnant and having a baby when you’re single is now an option for many women and there are a variety of options to choose from.
Here we share what treatments and options are available to single women on the NHS and privately.
What are my treatment options?
If you are thinking of starting a family as a single woman then you have a variety of options.
Egg freezing may be an option if you are not ready to have a family and you wish to maintain that chance in the future. Egg freezing means having an IVF cycle and freezing the eggs (oocytes) which can then be fertilised with either a future partner’s or a donor’s sperm at a later date.
Having IVF treatment without a partner is possible for single women. Using donor sperm can be a good option or if you have known fertility issues, it is also the most successful of all the available treatment options.
During IVF treatment the woman has hormonal medication to stimulate the ovaries to produce several eggs. After extensive monitoring scans, the eggs are then collected during a minor surgical procedure and then mixed with donor sperm in the laboratory. The woman then has an embryo transfer 2-5 days later which hopefully will lead to a successful pregnancy.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI)
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is also a good option for women without a partner although it is not as successful as IVF. Donor sperm is inseminated at the fertile point of a women’s cycle making IUI less invasive than IVF fertility treatment. Many single women choose this option as it costs less and there is likely to be less fertility drugs and procedures with this type of treatment.
Some women decide to look into home insemination with a known donor; however, this is not recommended because there can be serious health and legal implications. If you are a single parent or a same sex couple the donor will be considered the legal parent of any child that you might have.
Having treatment at a licensed clinic will ensure that the donor is not the legal parent of your child. Using a licensed clinic also means that the donor will have had the appropriate medical screening to be eligible to donate. Clinics also limit the number of families the donor sperm can be used for in line with regulations.
How do I choose a sperm donor?
Your clinic will be able to advise your options on choosing a sperm donor. Usually UK clinics will offer you a donor based upon their blood tests and physical characteristics such as eye colour, hair colour and build as they can only give out non identifying information.
All clinics in the UK are regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). This means that all UK clinics have to ensure that sperm donors are fit to donate, which can involve age limits, health questionnaires, consultations, and blood tests. Clinics also offer sperm donors implications counselling so that they understand as a donor that they are not the legal parent of any child born as a result of their donation. Any child born as a result of their donation can approach their clinic or the HFEA to find out any non-identifying information on their donor from the age of 16 and any identifiable information on their donor from the age of 18.
Can I get IVF treatment on the NHS if I am a single woman?
Until recently, NHS funding for IVF treatment was only available for heterosexual couples - previously couples or women had to prove their infertility privately before they were eligible for IVF.
In July this year, as part of the women’s health strategy, the NHS announced it would be changing this policy. Single women will no longer need to fund rounds of insemination before being eligible for NHS IVF treatment.
What else do I need to think about?
Even if you are having NHS funded treatment, having a baby can be expensive so it is important to think about your finances, not only for the cost of fertility treatment but also the cost of having a child.
It’s also a good idea to look at what support you have to help - this could be family, friends, support groups, or childcare. It’s also a good idea to look at your working options, such as maternity leave, flexible working and working from home.
What are the next steps?
If you are thinking about having a baby without a partner, the next steps would be to do some research to help you find out what treatment is right for you and your individual circumstances. You can look on the HFEA website to choose a clinic or to find the nearest fertility clinic to where you live.
If you’d like to find out more about IVF and fertility treatments, book an appointment with one of our specialist fertility coaches and nurses who can answer any questions you might have. You can also find out more about our other experts who can support you with fertility today.
Kate, Fertility Nurse
Kate is a passionate and very caring senior women’s health nurse specialising in fertility. She has over 15 years' experience in gynaecology with 6 years working for a leading IVF clinic.