Infant Birthmarks: What Parents Should Know
As common as they are, birthmarks are still mostly a medical mystery.
William Wooden, M.D., a plastic surgeon at Indiana University Health, explains the most common types of birthmarks and the ones you should never ignore.
As common as they are, birthmarks are still mostly a medical mystery. “Some may have a genetic component, but otherwise we just don’t know yet why some babies have birthmarks and others don’t,” says Dr. Wooden. Some are present at birth while others develop in the following weeks. Fortunately, most birthmarks are harmless and may even resolve on their own, but there are certain types that should be monitored by your child’s pediatrician and treated promptly. Read on to learn more.
Moles (congenital pigmented nevi.) While these are usually nothing to worry about, they shouldn’t be ignored, says Dr. Wooden. “Moles do carry a risk of developing into melanoma, particularly if they’re large,” he explains. Your child’s pediatrician should examine smaller moles; if you observe any changes to the mole (size, color, etc.), report it promptly. Larger moles may need to be removed, says Dr. Wooden: “I’d recommend seeking a consultation with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.”
Café au lait spots. So named for their light tan color, these oval spots tend to fade over time. In rare cases, however, they may indicate neurofibromatosis—a group of genetic conditions that cause tumors to grow along the nerves—so your doctor should be aware of the spots, particularly if your child has more than five of them.
Mongolian spots (congenital dermal melanocytosis.) These flat, gray-blue spots are often seen in babies with darker skin. Mongolian spots are commonly located on a child’s buttocks and lower back but are sometimes found on the legs and arms. While unsightly—they resemble bruises—they pose no danger and usually disappear by the time your child is 5.
Salmon patches (nevus simplex.) Also called “stork bites” (when they’re on the back of the neck) or an “angel’s kiss” (when they’re near the eyes), these small, flat, pink spots are harmless and usually fade on their own within a few weeks or months.
Port-wine stains (capillary malformations.) Most often appearing on the face, port wine stains are flat, purple-red splotches that may thicken and get bumpier over time. “These can be problematic, especially if they’re near the eyes because they’re associated with glaucoma,” Dr. Wooden says. Port wine stains can also be hard on a child’s self-esteem. Fortunately, they can be treated early (even while your child is still a baby), typically with laser therapy.
Hemangiomas. These benign tumors may be just a dot or scratch at birth but can grow rapidly in the first two years of your child’s life. “Hemangiomas near the eye, nose, and mouth should be treated immediately because they can cause permanent vision loss and interfere with eating and breathing,” Dr. Wooden says. Those on the perineum also require immediate attention because they may lead to bowel and urinary tract issues. The good news is that treatment of hemangiomas has improved dramatically. “We used to have to prescribe steroids, but now we’re able to shrink hemangiomas with blood pressure medications like propranolol, which has fewer side effects and produces better results,” Dr. Wooden says.
-- By Jessica Brown