Is your child’s birthmark cause for concern?
There seems to be some mysticism surrounding birthmarks. Some believe they’re leftover pieces of a past life while others believe that any strong emotion a mom experiences during pregnancy produces a birthmark. The medical world, however, simply explains it as a mark present at birth.
So is this so-called simple mark something parents need to lose sleep over? Not so much. Usually, most birthmarks are benign, and some will go away with time, but in some rare cases, treatment may be required. Birthmarks that linger are usually not treated unless they cause unwanted symptoms.
By and large, says Dr. Liborka Kos, pediatric dermatologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., most birthmarks are generally not cause for worry. “The vast majority of children are born with nothing alarming, so parents don’t need to be overly concerned,” she says.
Types of birthmarks
Most birthmarks come in two varieties: pigmented and vascular. Pigmented birthmarks occur when you have more pigment in one part of your skin. Pigmented birthmarks include:
- Café-au-lait spots: Light brown or the color of coffee with milk when on light skin and the color of black coffee on dark skin
- Mongolian spots: Appear as grayish-blue areas on the backs and behinds of babies with darker skin, almost bruise-like in appearance
Moles are birthmarks that may need treatment depending on their size, Dr. Kos says. She says they can appear in three sizes:
- Small—under 1 cm
- Medium—1.5 cm to 20 cm
- Large—20 cm or bigger
“With a large mole, the child has an increased risk of developing melanoma,” says Dr. Kos, which requires complicated treatment and possible referral to a plastic surgeon. Small and medium moles have less risk associated with them.
Vascular birthmarks appear when extra blood vessels clump together, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than one in 10 babies are born with them. Types of vascular birthmarks include:
- Macular stains (also called stork bites/angel kisses/salmon patches): Flat, pink blemishes on eyelids (angel kisses), back of the neck (stork bites) and other areas of the face
- Hemangiomas: Deep hemangiomas have a bluish-purple color and cause the skin to swell and bulge. Superficial hemangiomas are higher in the skin and appear bright red.
- Port wine stains: Appear on the face in the color of pink, red or purple wine or grape juice
Mongolian spots and macular stains are fairly common types of birthmarks, says Dr. Kos and tend to fade over time as the child gets older. Less common are hemangiomas.
Dr. Kos says these tend to grow in the first six to eight months and go away during a period of two to seven years. Most don’t require treatment. “However, if the birthmark is on an area affecting a function, like the eyelid, for example, sometimes they may need to be treated,” she explains.
In addition, if it is in a cosmetically sensitive area, it may also require treatment and should be followed by a dermatologist.
Port wine stain birthmarks are the rarest (less than 1 percent of people are born with them) and occur because the capillaries in the skin are wider than they should be. Dr. Kos says these birthmarks do not go away, and in fact, gradually, over the years, they usually darken and thicken.
“You can laser them to lighten them, but it requires multiple treatments,” Dr. Kos explains. “The treatment helps, but it will darken again over time so it may need to be lightened again.”
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