There’s almost no end to the old wives tales about birthmarks. If you have a prominent birthmark, you have surely heard that when your mother was carrying you she:
- Had an episode of being startled/frightened
- Ate too many beets/strawberries/tomatoes/watermelon slices
- Spilled something on her belly
- Wished for something she couldn’t have
Of course, none of these notions is true. What is true, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, is that many babies have some kind of birthmark visible when born or a few weeks thereafter. Most are completely harmless. More than ten percent of infants are born with vascular birthmarks made up of an increased concentration of blood vessels under the skin’s surface. These marks can be flat or raised, and pink, red or bluish in color.
One of the most common non-vascular birthmarks is called a “café au lait” spot, due to its light brown color caused by increased melanin. Having one or two of these birthmarks is usually not a problem, and most people do not seek treatment unless a mark is a cosmetic concern (some doctors report success with laser treatment). If your child is born with more than one or two café au lait birthmarks, you should consult a physician. Multiple light brown birthmarks can be a sign of a serious disease.
One so-called birthmark is not really a birthmark at all. A congenital nevus—a dark brown patch on the scalp or torso, some quite large—is actually a mole. The Mayo Clinic notes that children with moles present at birth run a greater than normal risk for skin cancer. Skin changes should be monitored carefully as the child grows.
The most common vascular birthmark is often referred to as an “angel’s kiss” or a “stork bite.” Known medically as macular stains, those that appear on the face usually fade with time, while those on the back of the neck often do not.
Another vascular birthmark is a “port wine stain.” This is a permanent birthmark that is usually pink at birth, growing to be a darker red or purple with time. It is usually found on the face or neck and can be large, like the mark on Mikhail Gorbachev’s forehead.