Bubba has a birthmark — What should I do?

Is that a bruise on your baby or a Mongolian spot? Get help spotting and treating your munchkin’s birthmarks…

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Did you know that your little one might have a birthmark you haven’t seen yet! That’s because these birthmarks — also called beauty marks — don’t necessarily develop at birth. It might become apparent only after the first few weeks or months of his life. Therefore, even if your infant was checked by the doctor immediately after birth, you should continue to be vigilant to spot any changes in his skin.

Dr Lynn Chiam, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, explains that your newborn’s skin takes time to mature and darken over time. She says, “[This] eventually highlights the differences between normal and abnormal pigmentation [or any] anomalies of the skin.”

Paying careful attention to baby’s skin is a good way to guard against possible skin cancer. And even though skin cancer is extremely rare amongst babies, Dr Chiam says that a giant congenital mole will increase your little one’s chances of getting cancer. So, although his birthmarks might look superficial, some can point towards more sinister health issues! Dr Chiam spells out how to spot them:


Your newborn’s giant congenital mole has a 10 per cent chance of developing into a cancerous growth.

There are two distinct groups of birthmarks:
*Hyper-pigmentary birthmarks Usually darker in colour — from brown to black — these are caused by a cluster of pigmented cells. Examples include moles, as well as café-au-lait and Mongolian spots.
*Vascular birthmarks Often red, pink or purple in appearance, these are often the result of abnormal blood vessels below the skin. Examples include Salmon patches, haemangiomas and port-wine stains.

Moles

APPEARANCE Brown spots on the skin that can be smooth and round or appear to be a bump on the skin’s surface. Often no bigger than the size of a pencil eraser. Whether flat or protruding, most moles won’t disappear nor fade with time, but are harmless.
HEALTH RISKS Your newborn’s giant congenital mole has a 10 per cent chance of developing into a cancerous growth. On an infant’s head, a giant congenital mole measures about 9cm or more, and 6cm or more on his body, Dr Chiam explains. If it increases in rapidly size, turns darker or starts to bleed, get it checked by the doctors, stat! If you notice any moles that might look different from the others, it is vital you get these examined, too.
SOLUTION If your mini-me has a giant congenital mole, he may need the doctor to check it regularly. Smaller moles that appear flat on the skin can be removed by laser treatment. Bulging moles can be eradicated through surgical means.

Café-au-lait spots

APPEARANCE Like its name café-au-lait — French for coffee with milk — these look like light brown patches of skin. Occurring in 10 to 20 per cent of infants, these generally won’t lighten nor disappear over time.
HEALTH RISKS Spotting six or more café-au-lait blemishes anywhere on your kewpie’s body is a sign of neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1). Seizures and headaches are common in people suffering from NF1, which can cause complications like heart defects and high blood pressure. Children with NF1 may have poor language and visual-spatial skills, and hence, are weaker students. Even more terrifying, Dr Chiam says, “A very rare complication is the cancerous transformation of the neurofibromas (bumps).”
Other signs of NF1 include:
*At least two neurofibromas — bumps within the nerves close to the skin’s surface.
*At least two growths inside the eyes.
*Abnormal growth of the spine, leading to scoliosis.
*Freckling — clusters of brown spots — in the armpit or groin area.
SOLUTION If it’s not neurofibromatosis Type 1, laser treatment can lighten these blemishes, although frequent sessions may be required to achieve better results. Dr Chiam adds.

Click to discover other kinds of birthmarks…


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Mongolian spots

APPEARANCE It’s the most common birthmark , occurring in up to 90 per cent of babies. Mongolian spots are more common among darker-skinned babies. Since it is bluish-grey in colour, you might confuse it for a very bad bruise.
HEALTH RISKS None.
SOLUTION These marks tend to fade and will appear lighter by age 9, without requiring any surgical intervention.

Haemangiomas

APPEARANCE Infantile haemangiomas appear as red lumps on the surface of the skin, hence the name strawberry marks. Sometimes, these spots appear deeper in baby’s skin and are bluish-purple in colour.
HEALTH RISKS Larger haemangiomas tend to turn into ulcers. If not, depending on where the birthmark develops, it can affect baby’s growth or bodily functions. Haemangiomas that grow near the eye can impair sight, Dr Chiam adds, while a haemangioma on the neck can hinder swallowing. It is vital to seeking prompt medical treatment in such cases.
SOLUTION Most infantile haemangiomas should clear up over time, leaving some fatty tissue in its place. A haemangioma in a critical part of baby’s body can be treated with oral medication like Propanolol to decrease its size and colour rapidly, explains Dr Chiam. Smaller marks can be treated with topical Timolol to reduce its size. Pulse laser treatment is also another option. Do discuss with your doc about the feasibility of combining different treatments.

Birthmarks are unique to the individual, so encourage your little one to accept them as a natural part of themselves, instead of covering it up.


Salmon patch

APPEARANCE Pink or red patches on the skin with poorly defined edges that are seen nearly 40 per cent of babies. Mostly found at the base of the scalp towards the back of the neck (called a stork bite) or on the forehead (called Angel’s kiss). Dr Chiam points out that these tend to become more noticeable when the child cries.
HEALTH RISKS None.
SOLUTION Most disappear within the first year, although stork bites can persist well into adulthood. Treatment is generally not necessary as most of them are hidden behind the hair.

Port-wine stain

APPEARANCE Much like red wine, these birthmarks look like patches of pink, red or purple skin. It is caused by the formation of too many capillaries near the surface of the skin and is found in one in 1,000 babies. It may become more obvious with puberty, during pregnancy or after menopause.
HEALTH RISKS A port-wine stain on the face, especially the forehead, around the eyes and sometimes extending up to the scalp is a sign that your sweetie may have Sturge-Weber Syndrome. A neurological disorder, it can result in seizures, increased eye pressure, weakness on one side of the body and even cause developmental delays.
SOLUTION Most are permanent and might in fact turn darker, thicker or cover a wider area over the years. If the baby’s port-wine stain grows on his face, he should be reviewed by a doctor to rule out Sturge-Weber syndrome or get treatment.

How do you help your child embrace his birthmarks? Read on…


With the pervasiveness of social media among youths, parents are understandably concerned about the impact of these birthmarks on their kids’ confidence. This is especially if the marks are evident or might grow darker through time.

Birthmarks are unique to the individual, so encourage your little one to accept them as a natural part of themselves, instead of covering it up. The sooner you help them accept their appearance, the more confident they will be.

Geraldine Tan, a principal psychologist at The Therapy Room, points out, “A toddler does not really worry about how they look. It is the adults that do!” So, mind your own body language when you interact with your child. Don’t put unnecessary emphasis on the birthmark as “focussing on something can indicate that it is good or bad”, Tan explains.

If your child is on the receiving end of unflattering comments, teach her to reply, “This is me!” and to ignore the person. Remind her to always dress appropriately and comfortably, stand tall, focus on the person who’s talking to her and smile. Doing so can help her be more confident.

Dr Lynn Chiam is a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. Geraldine Tan, is a principal psychologist at The Therapy Room.

Photos: iStock

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