If your baby has a birthmark, you’ll see a spot, patch, or lump that looks different from the rest of your baby’s skin. You may see this when your baby is born. Some birthmarks appear shortly after birth. Birthmarks come in many shapes and colors.
You may see a flat or raised mark. It may be the size of a pinhead or cover a large area of your child’s skin. Most birthmarks fall somewhere in between. A birthmark can be pink, red, tan, brown, or any other color.
Some birthmarks are common. Some look like bruises. Others look like a stain on the skin. It’s estimated that between 3% and 10% of babies are born with a birthmark called a (he-man-gee-oh-ma). Other birthmarks, such as port-wine stain, are less common. Certain birthmarks often fade independently, such as a salmon patch or hemangioma. Others, such as moles, tend to remain on the skin for life. Yes, a mole is a birthmark when a baby is born with it — or it appears on the surface shortly after birth.
Who Gets Birthmarks?
Birthmarks are common. Research shows that about 10% of babies are born with a hemangioma (he-man-gio-ma) birthmark. Fortunately, most hemangiomas go away on their own by the time a child is ten years old. Many disappear sooner. Babies may be more likely to have hemangioma if they are:
- Less than 5-1/2 pounds at birth
- Born with a sibling (twin, triplet, etc.)
Birthmarks that cause a brown mark on the skin, such as moles and café-au-lait (café-oh-lay) spots, are also common. About 1 in 100 babies have a small mole. More giant moles are less common. Babies of all races can have a mole.
A Mongolian spot is another common birthmark. Asians are most likely to be born with one of these spots. Mongolian spots are less common in other races. While some babies have a higher risk of developing certain birthmarks, there’s no way to know whether a baby will have a birthmark.
What Cause Birthmarks?
Diverse types of birthmarks have different causes. Before explaining these causes, it’s essential to put some superstitions to rest. Birthmarks don’t form because a pregnant woman ignores a food craving, touches her belly while worried, or eats certain foods.
These are myths. We still don’t know precisely why birthmarks develop, but here’s what scientists have learned so far. The cause varies with the type of birthmark. Some birthmarks form when blood vessels do not form properly. This can cause your baby to have one of the following birthmarks:
- Strawberry hemangioma
- Deep hemangioma
- Port-wine stain
- Salmon patch
Other birthmarks appear when cells that give our skin color, melanocytes (meh-lan-oh-cites), clump together. That’s why newborns develop moles or café-au-lait spots. A nevus sebaceous (knee-vs she-bay-ceous) develops when skin parts are overgrown. You cannot prevent these things from happening by satisfying every food craving or keeping your hands off your belly while worried.
So, it’s okay to ignore that desire for a turkey sandwich at 2:00 a.m. Have a dermatologist examine a birthmark as soon as you notice it so you know what type of birthmark your child has and whether it needs treatment.
How do Dermatologists Diagnose Birthmarks?
Often, a dermatologist can tell you what type of birthmark your child has by examining it. To explore a birthmark, your dermatologist may use an instrument called a Wood’s lamp. This device lets a dermatologist see parts of the skin that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
This won’t hurt. It’s just a special light. If your child has any birthmarks, your dermatologist may recommend some testing. Having a lot of birthmarks can be a sign of something going on inside your child’s body.
For example, if a child has many café-au-lait (cafe-oh-lay) spots, your child could have neurofibromatosis. This is a disease that can cause tumors on the nerves. Your child may need an X-ray or CT scan to rule this out. However, a dermatologist only needs to look closely at the birthmark most of the time. After the exam, your dermatologist can tell you the following:
- Type of birthmark your child has
- Precautions, if any, to take
- Treatment, if any, that’s recommended
Why Should a Dermatologist Examine Birthmarks?
One thing that most birthmarks have in common is that they’re harmless. Yet, if you see a birthmark on your child’s skin, it’s wise to have a dermatologist examine it. What you think is a birthmark could be the first sign of skin disease. It’s also possible that your baby has a harmless birthmark that will increase. Seeing a birthmark can be scary. Knowing this will happen and learning what to watch for can help put your mind at ease.
Some birthmarks signify that something is going on inside your baby’s body. Make an appointment with a dermatologist as soon as you notice the birthmark. A dermatologist can also tell you whether treatment is recommended — be it a birthmark or skin condition. Birthmarks come in many shapes and sizes. Here you’ll see what the diverse types of birthmarks can look like.
Strawberry hemangioma (he-man-gee-oh-ma)
The birthmark usually looks like a strawberry-colored lump that feels firm and rubbery. Sometimes, you may find a strawberry-colored patch or patches on your child’s skin instead of seeing a chunk. This birthmark increases, whether a lump or patch, until the child is 4 to 6 months old. Some grow for a longer time. When a strawberry hemangioma stops growing, it may stay the same or start to shrink. As it shrinks, the color changes to slate gray. In time, all strawberry hemangiomas shrink.
The birthmark also begins to soften. When the birthmark shrinks, the skin may break down, causing pain. If this happens, see your child’s dermatologist. The right wound care can help speed healing and eliminate the pain. Most occur on the head or neck, but this birthmark can develop anywhere on the skin or moist tissue inside the mouth or anus. About 10% disappear by the age of 1, and 90% are gone by the time a child is ten years old.
Cavernous infantile hemangioma
This birthmark looks like a lump that sits deep in the skin. It may be skin-colored or have a bluish-purple color, as shown here. You may see thin red lines, which are visible blood vessels. When you touch this birthmark, it often feels warm and firm. This birthmark can multiply and grow for up to a year. Sometimes, growth stops suddenly.
Other times, it slows. While it’s growing, a deep hemangioma can be painful. It can appear anywhere on the skin. Some break open and bleed. Fortunately, most fade on their own, but it takes time. About half disappear by five years of age. Ninety percent will be gone by the time a child is ten years old. It can leave a light spot or scar on the skin as it fades.
Angel’s kiss (Salmon patch)
You’ll see a flat, pink, red, or salmon-colored spot or patch. If you gently press on this birthmark, the color tends to fade. The color becomes more noticeable when your baby cries, becomes overheated, or feels irritated. Some babies have a few spots or patches, as shown here. When a salmon patch appears on the face, it’s often referred to as an angel’s kiss.
On the back of the neck, people often call this birthmark a stork’s bite. Usually, the face or the back of the neck can appear elsewhere on the skin. This birthmark tends to disappear between 1 and 3 years of age on the front. It may fade but not disappear when it appears on the back of the neck (stork’s bite) or elsewhere; it may fade but not disappear.
Café-au-lait (café-oh-lay) spot
This flat spot is darker than the rest of your child’s skin. It has an easy-to-see border and is the same color throughout. The color ranges from coffee with milk on fair skin (shown here) to black coffee on dark skin. The size varies greatly. It can be the size of a freckle or cover a large skin area. Most children have one spot, but some kids have more. If your child has six or more café-au-lait spots or you see spots that look like freckles developing around a café-au-lait spot, it’s time to see a dermatologist. Buttocks can appear anywhere on the skin, including the face. This spot remains on the surface for life. If your child has a café-au-lait spot in a visible place, a dermatologist can tell you whether treatment can help.
Congenital Melanocytic Nevus
A mole can appear on the skin as a small spot or cover a large area. Like moles that appear later in life, this mole can look anywhere on the skin. The mole may feel smooth, warty, or like cobblestones. Moles come in many colors, but most are brown or tan. A few disappear, but most remain on the surface for life. A dermatologist should check this birthmark because melanoma can develop in a mole, the most severe skin cancer.
Mongolian’s spot (Dermal melanocytosis)
Often looking like a bruise, this birthmark may be light blue, dark blue, or blue-gray. A baby may have one spot or several. Each spot can vary significantly in size. This birthmark occurs in all races. It’s least common in people with white skin and most common in Asians. Most appear on the lower back or buttocks, but they can show up anywhere on the surface. These often go away by the time a child is 3 to 5 years old. A few people still have this birthmark as adults.
Port-wine stain (Nevus flammeus)
You’ll see a spot(s) or patch(es) that can be pink, red, or purple at birth. As the child grows, so will this birthmark. In time, the birthmark tends to thicken and darken. As it thickens, the texture can change. Ridges may develop. Sometimes, the birthmark feels like cobblestones on the skin. A port-wine stain usually develops on the face; however, it can appear anywhere on the surface. Without treatment, this birthmark remains on the skin for life.
Nevus sebaceous (knee-issue-bay-ceous)
When it develops on the scalp of a newborn, this birthmark often looks like a slightly raised, hairless (or hairless) patch. As your child grows, this birthmark may stay the same or change. It’s most likely to change during the teen years.
It may thicken. You may notice the birthmark changes color, becoming slightly yellow or orange. The surface can feel pebbly or warty. This birthmark usually appears on the scalp or face. Occasionally, it develops on the neck or another area of the body. This birthmark can change, but it doesn’t go away.
White Spot Birthmark
Many people call this a white spot, but this birthmark is often an area of skin with less color than the baby’s surrounding skin. This spot can be raised or flat. It may be round, oval, or another shape—some relief-shaped. Most develop on the chest, abdomen, back, or buttocks. They can also appear anywhere else on the skin. Most disappear.