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What are birthmarks?

A birthmark is a coloured mark on or under a newborn baby's skin. Some birthmarks show up soon after a baby is born. Most birthmarks are obvious at birth. Some kinds of birthmarks fade or go away as a child gets older. Others stay the same or get bigger, darker, or thicker.

There are many kinds of birthmarks. They can be any size or shape and can be different colours, such as blue or blue-grey, brown, tan, black, pink, white, red, or purple. Some birthmarks are smooth, and some are raised or lumpy.

Nearly all birthmarks are harmless and painless. But it's important to have a doctor check all birthmarks, just to be sure they are okay.

What causes them?

Some birthmarks are from extra colour (pigment) in the skin. Other birthmarks are blood vessels that are bunched together or don't grow normally. It's not clear why some children have birthmarks and others don't.

What are the symptoms?

Birthmarks usually do not have symptoms. For this reason, some people with birthmarks may not even know they have them.

How are they diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose birthmarks during a physical exam. Your doctor may ask questions about the pregnancy, labour, and delivery. You may also be asked about family history. In some cases, your doctor may do tests.

How are birthmarks treated?

Most birthmarks are harmless and need no treatment. Some will even fade or disappear over time. But in rare cases, birthmarks need treatment because they are growing quickly, growing on an internal organ, or causing a medical problem (such as a problem with sight, breathing, hearing, speech, or movement).

There are several ways to fade, shrink, or remove birthmarks. These include:

  • Medicines, such as beta-blockers or corticosteroids.
  • Laser therapy.
  • Surgery.

Your options will depend on the type of birthmark, where it is, and what problems it's causing. Treating a birthmark can be a big decision. The treatments may not work, and they can be painful and cause side effects.

If you see a birthmark on your baby, make sure that a doctor has seen it. Although most birthmarks are harmless, some aren't. If a birthmark grows, bleeds, hurts, or gets infected, see a doctor to have it checked.

How can you care for your child who has a birthmark?

If the doctor prescribes medicine, have your child take it as directed. Keep your child from scratching a birthmark by covering it and by trimming their fingernails. Help them understand that a birthmark is natural. Join a support group or see a counsellor if your child still has problems because of the birthmark.


Current as of: March 21, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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