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Parenthood is a journey filled with surprises — but thrush is more of an unwelcome visitor you should probably expect at one point or another. And while it’s not dangerous, it’s certainly something you’ll want out of your and your baby’s life, pronto.

Gentian violet is an antiseptic from the 1800s that’s making a modern-day comeback. Here’s what you need to know about using it for thrush.

To understand why gentian violet works, it’s important to know what thrush is. Candida albicans — a fungus that lives on your skin and in your mouth and digestive tract — is usually kept under control by friendly bacteria and microorganisms.

But when the delicate balance is upset, Candida albicans flourishes. This overgrowth is known as thrush.

For more about thrush, here’s the 411.

Gentian violet is a synthetic, antiseptic dye named so because it mimics the intense purple-blue color of gentian wildflowers. It has been around since the 1860s, and it has a pretty good track record.

Traditionally used to treat fungal infections and small cuts, gentian violet has mild antibacterial and antiviral properties. It lost ground to antibiotics in the 1900s, but with increased antibiotic resistance, it’s making a comeback.

And hey, parents: It’s also pretty inexpensive and easy (albeit a little messy) to use.

You and your baby are doing a lot of sharing — beds, midnight snacks, and sunrise sightings. Since thrush is highly infectious, you’re probably sharing this too. Exactly what are you each experiencing?

Baby

Thrush typical shows up in its oral form — as white patches in a baby’s mouth and on their tongue and gums. And it can make feeding time quite painful, so if your baby is extra fussy at this time, you know who to blame.

Breastfeeding mother

You may notice some scaling and redness around your nipples. Or you may not notice any change. But one thing you won’t mistake is the deep, burning pain that lasts through the feeding and radiates into your arm and back.

Gentian violet is available both as a 1 and 2 percent solution. The 2 percent solution is too strong to use for thrush treatment. If you have the 2 percent solution, dilute it to 1 percent by simply adding an equal amount of water to it.

Figure on using about 2 teaspoons per treatment.

Babies

  1. Prepare by massaging a dab of olive oil or Vaseline onto your baby’s cheeks and lips to reduce the purple staining.
  2. Use a clean Q-tip to swab the solution around your baby’s mouth. Cover their gums, tongue, and palate, as well as under their tongue.
  3. Repeat this treatment twice a day for 3 to 4 days.

Breastfeeding mothers

You can get a head start by feeding your baby right after taking the steps above and then starting with step 3 below. Otherwise, here are the steps for you, from start to finish:

  1. Use a clean Q-tip to apply the solution to your nipples and areola. Let the area dry.
  2. Nurse your baby like you usually do.
  3. At the end of the session, check to see that the area is still covered with gentian violet. If not, apply a little more. Use a breast pad to prevent your clothes from getting stained.
  4. Repeat the treatment twice a day for 3 to 4 days. You should see an improvement within hours.

Research shows that gentian violet works — and quickly. After just 60 minutes of exposure to gentian violet, researchers have observed that the fungus had significantly lower activity.

In another study, researchers found that even a mild gentian violet solution (about 0.0016 percent) was effective against four Candida strains. At this percentage, it didn’t stain the tongue or cause any adverse effects.

In terms of drawbacks, there aren’t many. That said:

  • It’s called gentian violet dye for good reason. If you use it, watch out because it can stain your clothing permanently. While your baby won’t mind the color, you probably will. To minimize the paintwork, undress your baby before they feed and remove your own shirt.
  • There was a case report of a baby getting mouth ulcers after being treated with gentian violet for thrush. Although, these lesions could have come about because the baby was treated with a higher solution than the recommended 1 percent.
  • Some countries no longer recommend its use, and lactation consultants are recommending it increasingly infrequently.

You may not find gentian violet at your local pharmacy, so call around to find one that carries it. Alternatively, you can purchase it online.

Shop for gentian violet online.

If you’ve been using gentian violet for a week and don’t see an improvement, reach out to your healthcare provider to see whether there’s another reason for the pain you feel.

Also, if you’ve used gentian violet successfully twice and are now experiencing a third thrush infection, speak to your doctor to try to figure out why the reinfection is happening.

Finally, if this is your first yeast infection, or you’re unsure whether it’s really thrush, have your doctor assess you.

If your baby develops mouth ulcers from the treatment, stop using gentian violet and consult your pediatrician. The sores will clear up within a day.

It’s hard to believe that the solution for thrush can be so simple. But just like trusty chicken soup, there are some remedies that your grandmother may have used that you just can’t beat. Go ahead and try it out — and don’t mind the color. After all, purple is the color of royalty.