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A Parent's Quick Guide to Birthmarks
PHOTO BY babygaga.com
  • Birthmarks are said to be less common in Asians, but for the rest of the world, eight in 10 babies have them. Birthmarks can gradually fade away over time or stay with a child for all his life. Here’s what you should know if your baby comes into this world already...pre-marked. 

    What are birthmarks? 

    Birthmarks are colored markings on the skin. They’re called “birth” marks because they usually appear at birth, but don’t be surprised if a few weeks later a birthmark appears on your little one's skin. 

    Nearly all birthmarks are harmless and don’t require immediate medical attention. Still, be sure to show your doctor the birthmark during your child’s next checkup. 

    It’s not really known what causes most birthmarks. There’s nothing you can do (or not do) during your pregnancy to prevent them either. 

    Birthmarks can be small or large and flat or raised. They also come in different colors like brown, pink, red, blue, purple, gray and all the shades in between them. The color, position on the body and whether the birthmark is permanent or will fade over time will usually depend on the type of birthmark. 

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    What are the different kinds of birthmarks?

    There are two main categories of birthmarks: pigmented and vascular. These two dictate the color of the birthmark. Pigmented birthmarks are usually in shades of brown and are caused by pigmented cells (cells that cause coloring) that clump together. Vascular birthmarks have a reddish hue since these types are caused by abnormal blood vessels under the skin.

    Pigmented birthmark

    1. Café-au-lait spots

    When they appear: Can appear at birth or during the child’s first few years

    What they look like: Café-au-lait are brown in color and oval in shape. They can appear anywhere on the body. Common spots are on the legs, butt and torso. 

    Changes over time: They can become lighter over time but usually don’t go away completely. 

    Good to know:
    Though rare, finding several café-au-lait spots can be a cause for concern as well as those as large as the nail on your little finger. They can be a sign of a genetic disorder and other conditions. Consult with your child’s pedia if this is the case. 

    2. Mongolian spots


    When they appear: At birth

    What they look like: Mongolian spots are common to people with dark skin, like Filipinos. This is what Filipinos refer to when then playfully ask “Sino may balat sa pwet?” In fact, you might know someone who has. Mongolian spots are blue-gray in color that look like bruises. They’re harmless though! They can appear anywhere on the skin with the usual spots being the lower back and, you guessed it, the bum. 

    Changes over time:
    They can fade away or stay for life.

    3. Moles

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    When they appear: At birth or any age

    What they look like: Moles are common in people of all ages. Those found in babies at birth are called congenital nevi or congenital moles. They’re typically larger in size.

    Changes over time:
    Congenital nevi can become smaller in size as the child grows older. During puberty they can also darken in color and become hairy or bumpy.

    Good to know:
    The risk of a mole developing into cancer is low. There's but a 4 percent chance that a large mole will develop into cancer over time, Dr. Sheila Fallon Friedlander, section chief of pediatric dermatology at Rady Children's Hospital in the U.S. told Parents.

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    Vascular birthmark

    1. Macular stains (salmon patches)

    When they appear: At birth

    What they look like: Macular stains or salmon patches are pink patches on the skin that usually appear on a baby’s eyelids, neck or forehead at birth.

    Changes over time: Macular stains can be gone in as little as a few months. Those on the forehead take longer and will fade away by age two. Those on the neck, however, last even longer. You may notice they turn redder or darker when your baby cries. 

    2. Hemangiomas


    When they appear: Can appear at birth or soon after

    What they look like: Hemangiomas are either found on the surface of the skin, like a bump or deep below the skin’s surface. Those on the surface are raised and bright red (they’re sometimes called strawberry marks as they can indeed look like the fruit). See an example from blogger mom Melissa over on ahippiewithaminivan.com. Those below the surface are bluish-red since they’re underneath layers of skin (pictured above). 

    Changes over time:
    Hemangiomas grow in size during the first 6 months and can be alarming to any new parent. They usually shrink and fade in color afterwards. Some can be gone by the time the child turns 10 years old. Others stay or leave scars. 

    3. Port-wine stains


    When they appear: At birth

    What they look like: Port-wine stains get their name from their dark red to purple wine-like color. They’re flat and can appear on a small area of the skin or be several centimetres wide. 

    Changes over time: Port-wine stains can darken as a child grows older. They can also grow thicker and develop small lumps on the surface. This type of birthmark is permanent and does not fade away over time. 

    Good to know: It is rare, but port-wine stains are associated with glaucoma and seizures, especially those that are found on the face or near the eyes. Consult with your child’s pedia if your child has a port-wine stain birthmark.

    When should you worry?

    Birthmarks are not usually a cause for concern, especially so for pigmented birthmarks. However, they are treated when it grows in size (as is the case for hemangiomas that obstruct breathing, vision and eating) or when they are abnormally many in number.

    As always, check with a doctor for any concerns. If you notice a birthmark has appeared on your baby’s skin, consult with your child’s pedia for assessment. 

    Sources: KidsHealth, WebMD, Cleveland Clinic, American Academy of Dermatology, NHS, Mayo Clinic, BabyCenter

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