Pumping didn’t help. Cabbage didn’t help. Stern words didn’t help. My right boob just got more and more painful every time Ezra nursed. To be graphic about it: the nipple burned and felt like he was biting it off, and after nursing, shooting pains ran through my entire breast.
Google turned up a wide variety of conditions that might cause this kind of pain, and I self-diagnosed thrush, basically a yeast infection of the boob. I went to a La Leche League drop-in session, and amid the din of a room full of breastfed children, one of the facilitators agreed that it sounded like it could be thrush, and suggested a crazy old fashioned cure that I’d read about online. A phone call to my midwife turned up the same advice. And though the lactation consultant thought the whole thing might just be a case of Ezra latching on poorly, she also agreed that the treatment couldn’t hurt.
The treatment is called Gentian Violet, and it’s a small bottle of deep, dark purple liquid. Despite its name, it’s not a fragrant tincture of lovely prairie flowers. It’s made out of coal tar. Gentian Violet is one of the oldest known antifungal remedies in the world. It’s non-prescription, and most Walgreens don’t keep it lying around, so Sandy’s mom picked it up for me at Merz Apothecary.
You want to get Gentian Violet both on your nipple and in the baby’s mouth, since thrush is often passed back and forth between baby and mother. The most efficient way to do this is to paint the nipple right before baby nurses, and then let him get it in his mouth from nursing.
Here’s the thing: Gentian Violet is ink. Deep purple, permanent ink. So, it’s not like painting your nipple with honey and then the baby licks it off and it’s gone. Instead, you end up with a purple nipple and a blueberry-faced baby with intense purple lipstick.
It’s funny taking a baby with purple lipstick out in public. I kept waiting for someone to mention it, but most everyone was too polite, perhaps thinking that his violet lips were an embarrassing genetic condition I wouldn’t want to talk about. Our mail carrier was the first person to ask the obvious question: “Oh my god, what is that on his mouth?”
After two days of purpling self and baby, I still wasn’t feeling better. I got in touch with the lactation consultant, who managed to fit me and Blueberry Joe in for a quick visit. She was in love with Ezra; most of her patients are not eating well, and are skinny and dehydrated. She could not get enough of his chubby legs.
I nursed him, and she immediately diagnosed the problem. “Rug burn,” she said. He’s developed a way of latching on that allows him to press really hard on my nipple with his tongue, creating a painful blister. Also, he’s clamping down on the nipple with his gums and lips, which cuts off circulation, so I’m getting nerve and vascular pain from that.
So, I put the Gentian Violet away, delighted to have my pink baby back, and set about reteaching him how to latch on. Nursing on the right side now has some of the tone of a dog training exercise, with me frequently yelling “no!” and pulling him off to reposition and try again. We’ll get it right eventually.