Most birthmarks are benign irregularities on the skin, an abnormal collection of small blood vessels under the skin.

They are painless and are normally present at birth or appear shortly thereafter, usually within the first month. They can occur anywhere on the skin.  A significant proportion of newborns have a vascular birthmark. Nobody really knows what the cause of birthmarks are and experts say that vascular birthmarks are not hereditary.

A significant number of birthmarks fade away without any need for treatment. However, if the birthmark causes health problems, or if the patient feels strongly about getting rid of it, the doctor may recommend treatment.

Common types

Café au lait spot

They are usually oval in shape, with a light brown or milky coffee colour (hence the name), like dashes of extra melanin (a natural brown pigment) splashed across the skin. They are either present at birth or occur soon afterwards. They are usually found on the upper body, buttocks and legs. As the individual gets older they do not fade. Some people may have one or two, but more are possible.

Mongolian spots

These birthmarks are usually found on dark-skinned babies, are often uneven in shape, and appear on the lower back, legs and buttocks. They are usually the colour of a bruise (blue or blue-grey) and many children may have more than one. These spots are identifiable at birth and almost always fade by age five. Only five percent of children with Mongolian spots will have them for life. These spots are totally harmless and do not suggest any other type of syndrome.

Stock bites

Also known as Salmon patches, these are harmless and very common.  They are usually reddish marks and flat, found typically on the back of the neck, the upper lip, between the eyebrows and on the upper eyelid.  They occur in about one third of fair-skinned babies and usually fade by the age of five.

Strawberry marks

Although they look like a flattened version of its namesake, the real name for these birthmarks is capillary haemangioma and they can be found on two percent of newborn babies. Strawberry marks very often disappear by the time a child is of school going age, but see your doctor if any strawberry marks appear around your baby’s eyes, nose, or mouth.

Port wine stains

Ranging in size and found anywhere on the body but commonly affecting the face, these large birthmarks are usually dark red or purple in colour, and are generally flat and smooth. They are caused by an extensive network of blood vessels near the surface of the skin, which did not grow normally.  If unsightly, they can be removed with laser treatment or camouflaged with make-up.

Spider birthmarks (naevi)

These small marks appear shortly after birth as a network or a cobweb of dilated vessels.  They generally disappear after the first year.

Pigmented naevi

These brownish patches can occur anywhere on the body.  They are usually pale and nearly always enlarge as the child grows, but they seldom become darker.

When to see a doctor

Although most birthmarks are harmless, many dermatologists recommend getting them checked by a doctor to ensure there isn’t an underlying disorder. It may be necessary to treat a birthmark if it:

  • Changes in size, shape or colour
  • Starts to itch, burn, hurt or sting
  • Develops bumps or sores
  • Bleeds at all
  • Interferes with normal activity
  • Causes dissatisfaction with your baby’s appearance
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