Five weeks into nursing her newborn son Knox last spring, Summer Pointer noticed her breast getting red and hard. The diagnosis: mastitis.
“My obstetrician prescribed me an antibiotic, but it ended up not working after two or three days,” Pointer, 22, tells PEOPLE. “So he prescribed me a stronger one, I gave it two or three days again and it still wasn’t working.”
At that point, Pointer’s doctor referred her to a breast surgeon, who wanted to do an immediate surgery that would require Pointer to stop nursing.
“I cried and asked if we could do anything else — I didn’t want to stop,” Pointer says. So she tried one more antibiotic, commonly used to treat MRSA, but the situation literally came to a head when the hard spot on Pointer’s breast developed a soft head that wouldn’t go away. A return trip to the surgeon resulted in a lancing and aspiration.
“She cut it open and packed it with gauze,” Pointer, who still has scar tissue from the procedure, recalls. “She also told me not to nurse on that side because Knox’s saliva might cause an infection. So I pumped on that side but eventually he wouldn’t take it anymore.”
Ever since, Pointer has been nursing Knox, now 18 months, exclusively from her left side, as her right stopped producing milk. “My right side is a full A cup and my left is a full D,” she says. “I use three bathing suit paddings to make them look similar.”
Pointer thinks her problems started immediately after Knox’s birth in the hospital near her hometown of Milner, Georgia, when a nurse “pretty much threw a nipple shield at me without trying to help me latch,” she recalls. A lactation consultant attempted to help the next day, but Knox was already used to the nipple shield, which may have affected his ability to remove milk from the breast.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and registered nurse Elizabeth Sjoblom of Chicago-based Lactation Partners says mastitis can often occur when a mother “has an oversupply of milk, misses feeds or gives infrequent feedings, or has poor attachment to the breast by the baby that leads to ineffective milk removal,” she tells PEOPLE.
“Antibiotics help the infection, but do not determine why the infection happened,” Sjoblom adds. “So working with a lactation consultant to determine the cause can limit the length of infection, risk of reoccurrence and decrease risk of further infection like an abscess,” which Pointer suffered from.
Looking back, Pointer thinks she probably had a clogged duct as a result of Knox’s limited milk removal through the nipple shield, but “I was so engorged I didn’t know the difference,” she says.
Sjoblom says that when nursing moms are dealing with a clogged duct or mastitis, they need to keep nursing or pumping, preferably with massage. “The active stimulation to the breast maintains milk supply and helps to prevent further infection and relieve pressure,” she says.
Abscesses like the one Pointer developed are rare, Sjoblom explains, and while antibiotics can cause a temporary dip in milk supply, they are generally safe to take while nursing, adds Green Bay, Wisconsin-based OB GYN Dr. Sara Swift. “Sometimes you have to dump [your pumped milk], but the worst thing to do is to stop abruptly nursing,” she says.
Early intervention is key in stopping a clogged duct from turning into mastitis, and mastitis from creating an abscess, Sjoblom adds. Doctors were right in their course of treatment, however telling Pointer to wean ” ‘cold turkey’ could have likely complicated the problem for the breast.”
Fortunately, Pointer hasn’t had issues with nursing since her 2017 ordeal, and hopes to again nurse from both sides if she has another child. But for now, she plans to continue nursing Knox from the left until age 2. “That’s my goal,” she shares.