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Why Does a Glycerin Suppository Work in Infants?

By Dorian Facey ; Updated June 13, 2017

Many parents keep tabs on the frequency and consistency of an infant’s bowel movements. Any change in an established routine brings anxiety and possible visits to the doctor. When constipation is diagnosed and intervention is required, the pediatrician might suggest using a glycerin suppository.


Constipation is a problem that is common in infants and children, accounting for about 3 percent of pediatric outpatient visits. Although it is a worrisome situation for parents, there is rarely any underlying medical reason. In the first week of life, infants average about four bowel movements per day, tapering to 1.7 stools per day at age 2 and 1.2 a day by age 4.

Causes of Infant Constipation

Changes in diet that an infant experiences sometimes result in constipation. Starting formula after being breast fed or moving to more solid foods can lead to constipation. If you suspect your child is constipated, consult her doctor before taking action. Do not administer a laxative to any child under age 6 without the advice of a doctor.


Laxatives, products used to promote bowel movements, are available for either oral or rectal use. The rectal products are suppositories and enemas. Laxatives are grouped according to their methods of action. Some are stimulants, causing an increase in the contraction in the intestines. Others soften the stool, and still others increase the volume of stool.

Glycerin Suppositories

Glycerin suppositories are hyposmotic laxatives, meaning they serve as stool softeners by absorbing water from the surrounding tissues. They provide quick results, sometimes within 15 minutes. There are forms specially designed for infants and children. Because they are rectal products, the infant is not required to ingest anything, making this type easier to administer. Parents often choose these products because of the ease of use and quick results.


Do not overuse suppositories or other laxatives; otherwise, your child could develop a “laxative habit” and begin to depend on a laxative for a bowel movement.

Watch your infant carefully to ensure there is no adverse reaction to the glycerin suppository.

A dietary change could help prevent future bouts with constipation. Try adding water or fruit juice to an older infant’s diet, or feed your child high-fiber cereals, such as barley, if solid food already is part of his diet.

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