What are birthmarks?
Birthmarks are coloured marks on the skin. The majority of children have some kind of birth mark and they are caused by blood vessels under the skin, or pigment that changes the colour of the skin. Your baby might be born with one, or it might show up a few months after he is born.
Finding a birthmark on your baby may come as a shock but it’s important to remember that most birthmarks are harmless, and many go away on their own. Some, however, do need medical attention so it’s worth knowing when to take action.
Flat red or purple marks, present from birth, which darken with age. They range in size from a few millimetres to several centimetres in diameter. Around 3 in 1,000 babies are born with a Port-wine stain, most commonly on the face. If untreated, they’re permanent.
Salmony-coloured marks that appear at birth, usually on the forehead, upper eyelids and sometimes on the nape of the neck. They disappear within two years after birth.
Congenital melanocytic naevi (CMN)
Also known as congenital moles, they’re present from birth, usually less than 2.5cm diameter, most commonly found on the back and can be raised or hairy. They’ll be brown in fair-skinned babies and almost black in dark-skinned babies.
These bluish or greenish bruise-like marks are most common in Asian or African babies. They’re a few centimetres wide and usually appear on the back or bottom, either at birth or within a few weeks. By the age of 5 they’re usually gone
“I wasn’t too worried at first but it grew quickly”
Marija Smiths, 32, from Suffolk, mum to Rebecca, 2, has learned to deal with comments from both adults and children about her daughter’s birthmark…
“When Rebecca was born, just like any new mum I thought she was the most beautiful baby in the world. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“At just a few weeks old Rebecca’s face became covered in newborn acne. I wasn’t too worried as it cleared up. But a fortnight later I noticed a few red pinpricks at the top of her nose. My husband, Tom, was sure they were just broken blood vessels and that they’d soon disappear, but instead the dots grew larger and started joining up.
“I checked our family health book, and Rebecca’s blemish fitted the description of a strawberry haemangioma birthmark, which is basically a large collection of blood capillaries under the skin’s surface.
“The birthmark grew at frightening speed to the size of a walnut. But our GP told us that this was usual, and that it should stop growing by the time she was 6 months old. He added that these types of birthmarks nearly always recede naturally, within about 10 years. And although it wasn’t causing her any immediate problems, he referred us to skin specialists at the local hospital.”
“I wished it would go away and I felt so protective”
“By the time Rebecca was about 9 months old we’d seen the dermatologist several times and to our immense relief, he reassured us the birthmark wouldn’t get any bigger. But he was concerned that because of its location it could interfere with her sight. I felt a fresh wave of anxiety, as I didn’t want her to undergo surgery. Thankfully, after some tests, the ophthalmologist confirmed Rebecca’s vision wasn’t affected. I was so relieved, but couldn’t help wishing it would go away sooner rather than later.
“I often get asked, ‘What’s that on her face?’ Some adults ask how she’s injured herself and children can’t resist touching it, which makes me feel very protective! On several occasions I’ve had to physically remove her from other toddlers who won’t let it go. But the most unpleasant experiences have involved distant relatives who keep telling me how pretty she is… except for the birthmark.
“However, most people are very understanding and it’s been so reassuring to meet people who have had strawberry birthmarks when they were children that have now disappeared.”
“A fall meant a visit to A&E”
“As Rebecca took her first baby steps and began to walk, I was about to learn another painful lesson in parenting a child with a strawberry birthmark. For any other toddler, a stumble might result in some scrapes and tears, but for Rebecca, a fall when she was 14 months old resulted in a visit to A&E.
“The huge amount of blood that poured out of the wound to her birthmark was shocking. I felt immense guilt that I hadn’t been able to stop her falling and when the doctors discussed the possibility of emergency surgery to remove the birthmark I felt physically sick.
“It was such a relief to hear there was a special type of dressing which could be used to heal the wound, and that an operation would be a last resort. A week later, when the bandage was removed, Tom and I were overjoyed to see that the wound had healed.
“Rebecca seemed unfazed by her ordeal, and apart from the Harry Potter-like scar to her birthmark, she’s suffered no other after effects. It certainly hasn’t dented her confidence, and it gives me great joy to see her now at the age of 2, busy climbing and running around (under my very close supervision, of course!).”
“I’m concerned about school”
“I’m aware of the emotional problems she may encounter if the birthmark doesn’t go away by the time she goes to school. And if I’m honest, I am concerned about the future too. I’m desperately worried she may get teased about it, or worse still, bullied. But children who know her don’t make an issue of it, so I hope it won’t be a problem for her when she becomes more aware of her appearance.
“I’m sure Rebecca will grow up safe in the knowledge that to us she is simply the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world.”
Where to go for support
The Birthmark Support Group has information on birthmarks and how to help your family cope. Visit www.birthmarksupportgroup.org.uk or call 0845 045 4700.
For emotional support, contact Changing Faces via www.changingfaces.org.uk or call 0845 450 0275.
How to get help
- Once you’re happy with your GPs diagnosis please insist on a referral to a specialist unit for further help. “We’re urging doctors to get a second opinion – it’s better to be safe than sorry as some birthmarks have underlying medical concerns,” says Louise Busfield, trustee of the Birthmark Support Group.
- If your child has a birthmark that is unlikely to fade, she could use make up when she gets much older to ‘camouflage’ the mark like any of us would with our skin if we had red cheeks or a blemish.
- New laser treatments have been developed to treat port wine stains. The appearance of some of these types of birthmarks can be reduced by up to 70%.
- Plastic surgery is an option if the birthmark is extensive, disfiguring or in a peculiar location,” says Mr Tariq Ahmad, consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital NHS Trust, Cambridge. “Although it may not be able to remove it completely, it can offer help to children who are painfully conscious of a facial birthmark.”