What Do Birthmarks Mean?

Birthmarks are marks on the skin of newborns that can be noticed right after birth or shortly afterwards.

Some birthmarks fade as the child grows up while others stay the same or grow bigger, thicker and darker. Birthmarks come in different sizes, shapes and colors. Usual colors are blue, bluish gray, black, brown, pink, white, red and purple. Some are flat and smooth, while others are raised. Most of the skin blemishes are harmless and painless. But it’s a must to have the doctor check your baby’s birthmarks just to make sure that there is no problem.

Although it’s not clear why some kids are born with birthmarks and others are not, experts point out that these skin blemishes are often caused by extra pigmentation on the skin. They are due to the overgrowth of blood vessels that bunch together or do not grow normally. They can also be caused by excess fat, fibroblasts and keratinocytes.

Birthmarks come in two primary types:
– pigmented
– vascular

Pigmented Birthmarks
Pigmented type is further divided into three sub-types:
– mole (also known as congenital melanocytic nevus )
– café au lait spot
– Mongolian spot

• Mole
Mole occurs in about 1 percent of the infants born in the United States. Moles usually appear in the area of the head and neck but they can also appear anywhere in the body. They appear as light brown in babies with fair skin and almost black in babies with dark complexion. Moles can be round or irregular in shape, flat or raised, and smooth or textured.

• Café Au Lait Spot
Café au lait Spot can occur anywhere in the body. It is often oval in shape and light brown in color. This birthmark usually doesn’t fade with age. Having one or two is normal but having more than four can indicate neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder where tumors can grow in the nervous system.

• Mongolian Spot
Mongolian spot is visible on some six-month old babies. This is a benign flat birthmark common among East Asians, East Africans, and Native Americans. This skin blemish usually disappears within the first four years. The usual color is blue although it can also be brown, bluish gray or bluish black.

Vascular Birthmarks
The second type of birthmarks are the vascular types, which include:
– stork bite (also called telangiectatic nevus, angel’s kiss, and salmon patch)
– strawberry mark (also called hemangioma)
– port-wine stain (also called nevus flammeus)

• Stork Bite
It’s a pink or tan mark on the knee, forehead, eyelids, back of the neck, or top lip. It occurs in about one third of all newborns and disappears within three years.

• Strawberry Mark
Strawberry mark refers to a benign self-involuting tumor of the endothelial cells. These are the cells that line the blood vessels. The strawberry mark is the most common tumor among babies that appear during the first week of life and disappear by the age of 10.

• Port-Wine Stain
Port-wine stain is what you see on the head of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last head of state of the USSR after its dissolution many years ago. This spot, which is present at birth, is often deep wine-red in color, hence the name port-wine stain. This is caused by lack of nerve supply to the blood vessels that causes the blood vessels to dilate and pool blood in the affected area. If the port-wine stain appears on the face, eyelids or forehead, this may indicate health problems such as Sturge-Weber syndrome, seizures and glaucoma.

As mentioned earlier, most birthmarks do not require any treatment. They usually go away on their own over time.

Those that remain may be removed with surgery or lightened with laser. Since these treatments are painful, costly, and not that effective, many doctors recommend that birthmarks not be treated.

A birthmark should only be treated if it is causing any medical problem such as difficulties with sight, breathing, hearing, movement or speech. However, those that form internal lesions by growing into organs usually require treatment.

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