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On your marks: a dermatologist’s guide to your baby’s birthmarks

Cairine Wilkinson - Expert dermatologist

9 minutes

09/14/2021

Expert dermatologist, Cairine Wilkinson, tells new parents about the most common baby birthmarks and what to expect as your baby grows.

  1. Baby Birthmarks - the ins and outs

  2. What causes birthmarks on babies and are they inherited?

  3. Do baby birthmarks go away?

  4. Types of baby birthmarks

  5. When to talk to your healthcare provider

1. Baby Birthmarks - the ins and outs

Like our babies, birthmarks come in all shapes, sizes and colors – with colorful names from strawberry marks to port wine stains. A birthmark is exactly as advertised – an area of darkening or color on the skin that we are born with or that comes on shortly after birth – most are harmless and will fade over time without treatment. Of course if you have any concerns, be sure to speak to your healthcare provider or pediatrician – if your baby has one.

2. What causes birthmarks on babies and are they inherited?

As a dermatologist, parents often ask me how baby birthmarks are formed and if they could have been prevented. Despite myths about dietary choices or how a baby or mom’s positions may have caused a birthmark (even storks have been implicated!), there’s nothing we can do to control birthmarks.

Firstly, a baby’s birthmarks can be inherited and it’s not uncommon to find that your baby’s birthmark may be similar to one seen on a sibling or other family members.

Still, the cause of each particular one may vary with the mark itself, and of course every baby is different. For example, baby birthmarks that are red in color are often caused when blood vessels are not formed properly or are overgrown, whereas brown or blue grey spots are related to pigmentation.1

3. Do baby birthmarks go away?

Baby birthmarks often change with time, fading, shrinking or disappearing altogether – but, as is so often the case with these ever-changing and unique marks, each may take on a shape of its own in its own time. Below, we discuss the most common birthmarks and whether and when they will resolve themselves.

4. Types of baby birthmarks

The most common kinds of baby birthmarks are:

  • Strawberry marks

  • Salmon patches and stork marks

  • Port wine stains

  • Café-au-lait spots

  • Blue-grey spots

Strawberry marks on babies

Strawberry marks are raised red lumps of varying sizes, which appear shortly after birth and occur more often in girls and pre-mature babies, low birth weight babies and multiples. While they can become larger in the first year of life, they often fade to 30% by age three, 50% by age five and 70% by about age seven.2

Salmon patches on babies

If you notice that pink or red patches appear on your baby’s face, eyelids or forehead during a good cry, you might be seeing a salmon patch, a common birthmark that appears on the head, neck and face during the first two years of life. While salmon patches around the forehead and eyelids fade more quickly, those on the back of the head and neck may take longer to go away.3

Stork marks on babies

A stork mark or ‘bite’ is not dissimilar to a salmon patch, but it has its own distinct location: the back of a baby’s neck. No, this is not in fact the place where the stork carried the newborn in its bill, but a concentration of blood vessels that will fade, like salmon patches, by age two.4

Port wine stains on babies

Port wine stains get their name from their darker red or purple color, which are present from birth and may appear on one hemisphere of the face or body. Some port wine stains can become darker, patchier or lumpier over time, but many parents have success with laser treatment in younger children.5

Port wine stains can be a sign of two rare syndromes, Sturge-Weber syndrome and Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome (or macrocephaly-capillary malformation).6 If you have concerns about port wine stains in your baby, please speak with your healthcare provider.

Café-au-lait spots on babies

The descriptive café-au-lait spot is a common light brown spot or splotch that can be found anywhere on the body – and can come as one or in multiples. That said, if there are six or more, do speak with your healthcare provider as they can signal an underlying condition – and it is important to get them checked out.

Like your coffee, a café-au-lait spot can differ in size and color and will be darker on darker-skinned babies. Unlike other baby birthmarks, café-au-lait spots do not clear on their own and may be with us for life.7

Blue grey spots on babies

Sometimes mistaken for bruises due to their color, blue-grey spots (also often called Mongolian Blue Spots) are commonly found on babies with darker skin and most frequently occur on the lower part of the body, from lower back to bottom and legs, and on arms.8 They will clear by the age of four, and, while not harmful, should be noted for medical records because of their ability to mimic bruising.9

5. When to talk to your healthcare provider

Of course, your baby may also be born with, or develop, other lifelong marks, such as naevi, which is a patch of overgrown skin, or moles. But, as most of us adults know from our own moles, the majority are harmless unless they start to grow, become painful or become irregular. If you’re ever concerned, visit and speak to your healthcare provider. And always see a healthcare provider if :10

  • Moles are close to the eye, nose, or mouth

  • A mole has grown bigger, darker or lumpier

  • It becomes sore or painful

  • Your child has six or more cafe-au-lait spots

  • You or your child has a large congenital mole

Further, it’s always helpful to know your ABCs (and Ds and Es)11. Check a handy guide for identifying dangerous moles at the Mayo Clinic

Suffice it to say, birthmarks are just another part of all the things that make our babies unique, even if they are with us just a short while. Still, there’s no shortage of shared experience, whether from other parents, experts, websites, associations and your healthcare providers. They can all help you learn more.

If you found our baby birthmarks article useful be sure to look at our other in-depth articles on common baby skin conditions and baby advice on our Parenting Community, like the below:

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About the Author

Cairine Wilkinson - Expert dermatologist

Cairine Wilkinson, is a consultant dermatologist at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. She has a special interest in pediatric dermatology and is a member of the British Association of Dermatologists.

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