Most parents will explore their baby’s body from head to toe within the first few days, often discovering small marks on various parts of their baby’s skin. Most babies are born with spots or some form of marks or discolorations on their skin. The majority of these being temporary, fading or disappearing after a period of time. A few will increase in size before shrinking and disappearing in a year or two.
Actual birthmarks, which are permanent and will stay with the baby for life, will only be occasionally discovered on a new baby. We don’t know why babies develop birthmarks and they are not believed to be connected to anything the mother has done during the pregnancy, rather a natural, unpredictable phenomenon.
Permanent birthmarks can be of no consequence or they can be distressing for parents, especially if they are large or situated on a prominent area, like the baby’s face. Many parents may take a while to come to terms with these types of markings, often grieving for the loss of their ‘perfect baby’ or feeling concerned about how the mark will affect their child’s life. Some of the more common marks that can be found on a baby’s skin soon after birth (be they temporary or permanent) can include the following:
Stork marks. Stork marks or ‘stork-bites’ are small pink or red patches on the baby’s skin, usually seen on the baby’s eyelids, forehead, nose, top lip, between their eyes on the bridge of their nose, and over the nape of their neck, just below the hairline. Stork-bites are found in about 50% of all newborn babies. These marks are harmless and will usually disappear over time.
Stork marks are caused by a collection of tiny blood vessels, being just visible underneath the baby’s fine skin (which is half the thickness of an adult’s skin). Most stork marks fade quite slowly and can take up to 12 months (or longer) to completely disappear. Often stork marks will become more obvious when your baby cries and may still be noticeable at times later in life.
Strawberry marks. Strawberry marks are very common and are caused by an overgrowth of tiny blood vessels called ‘capillaries’ underneath the baby’s skin. Most strawberry marks are not obvious at birth, or may appear as tiny red dots somewhere on the baby’s skin. A few strawberry marks are larger and more obvious at birth. The marks will often grow and become more apparent in the baby’s first 6 to 12 weeks of life. Some can have a growth period up until the baby is around 9 months old, before shrinking and disappearing.
Strawberry marks look like a bright red (or purplish), soft, raised, spongy swellings. They can often have a bluish appearance around the edges. In the past strawberry marks were aggressively treated with either laser, x-rays, freezing or injecting chemicals. These sometimes led to scarring and side effects for the child. Removal of strawberry marks is now not recommended unless the mark is growing in an area that may cause a problem, such as close to the child’s eye and possibly interfering with their sight. Some parents will consult with a dermatologist when the strawberry mark is small and consider removal of the mark before it enlarges. Most strawberry marks are completely gone within 2 years, while some can still be detectable up until the child is 10 years of age. They can appear anywhere on the body including inside the mouth or on the genitals and there can be more than one.
Spider marks. Spider marks are a collection of small broken blood vessels (or capillaries); looking like a network or cobweb of vessels, underneath the baby’s fine skin. They are similar to stork marks and are noticeable soon after birth and may darken when your baby cries. Most will disappear in the first 1 – 2 years.
Mongolian spots. A ‘Mongolian spot’ is a term given to a slate – blue patch of skin discoloration, usually across the lower back and bottom (and occasionally the tummy) of darker skinned babies. The area can look like a bruise and is caused by an accumulation of pigment under the baby’s skin. Mongolian spots are usually present at birth, or appear a few hours, or days, afterwards. Occasionally, it can become noticeable as late as 3 months of age. Mongolian spots are harmless and will fade away naturally within the first 3 years.
Birthmarks. The traditionally recognized ‘birthmarks’ are medically known as brown, pigmented ‘naevi’. They can appear in a variety of shapes and sizes and will usually stay with the baby for life, but not cause any problems. Some birthmarks are flat and pale, or ‘coffee-colored’ enlarging, as the baby grows older, but not becoming darker. Others are dark and slightly raised, sometimes with hair growing out of them, often called a mole. Occasionally these marks do not become apparent until the baby is a couple of months old. If you are concerned about the mark on your baby you can consult with a dermatologist (or skin specialist).
‘Port Wine’ mark. A port wine ‘stain’ or mark is a birthmark caused by dilated capillaries in the skin, appearing bright red to purple in color. Port wine marks tend to appear more so on the face and neck but can be anywhere on the body. The mark itself is usually different in texture with the stain having defined edges. They are a permanent mark on your baby and can be upsetting if on a sensitive area such as the baby’s face. There are some laser treatments available to remove port wine stains, usually when the child is older.
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.