Friday, March 4, 2011

Polka Dots...or Not?

So...about 9 years and 10 months ago, as I was changing Meg's diaper, I noticed what appeared to be a pretty good bruise on her perfect little body.  Then during bathtime, one of the children said, "Look. Meg has a polka dot on her back!" And there it was - another bruise looking mark on the small of her back. 

I freaked out. 

I checked her car seat to see if there were any uneven surfaces that could be causing irritation.  I checked her crib, blankets, swing, and bouncy seat.  Nothing.  Everything was soft, even, and looked quite cozy.  Then I started thinking down a path I didn't ever think I'd go down.  Had someone done this to Meg? I recounted every moment of every day - had Meg ever been out of my sight unattended, and if so, with whom?  The answer came quickly and easily - - a firm no.  I'd never left her with anyone, babysitter or otherwise. For heavens sakes, I couldn't even put the child down for bed without great sadness at our separation through the night until morning.  I held her every second of every day that I could - and rarely shared. morning, I took her promptly to the pediatrician.  What were these painful looking bruises and where were they coming from?  I was a mess.  Fortunately, our pediatrician was not a mess; she is a wonderful, compassionate, and educated woman who knows the perfect balance between informing the parent of whats really going on without making the parent feel like a complete idiot (even when that may be the case).  She is our angel and her name is Dr. Owens. We adore her. She's the Mary Poppins of the medical world: Practically Perfect In Every Way. (But that's another post entirely. And it will be long one.)

Anyway,  Dr. Owens' answer was simple: MONGOLIAN SPOTS.  Well, I smoothly explained, Meg was not of Mongolian descent so clearly that wasn't accurate.  And with her sweet, empathetic smile, Dr. Owens explained Mongolian Spots:

(*disclaimer* I'm not offering medical advice from either Dr. Owens or myself.  I'm just recalling the conversation we had that day to the best of my ability, and bolstered it with a little additional research)

Mongolian Spots are flat, irregular shaped birthmarks commonly seen in children Asian, East Indian, African, or Latino descent. According to the American Journal of Dermatology, at least 90 percent of people of African heritage have these marks, as do over 80 percent of Asians. And in spite the name, Mongolian spots have no known anthropologic significance, except for being more common in darker-skinned infants. (Although 10 percent of Caucasians also have Mongolian spots. There's always an exception, right?)
These bluish to deep brown-black skin markings usually appear at the base of the spine,  the buttocks and back, and occasionally on the ankles or wrists. They can vary in size from a pin head to 6 inches across. Spots are caused by skin cells called melanocytes and have normal texture. They commonly appear at birth, or shortly after birth, and can look very much like bruises. In fact, your doctor can even keep a diagram of the number and position of any  Mongolian spots in your child's chart.

Mongolian spots are harmless.  They are benign and are not associated with any illnesses or risk factors. They usually fade in a few years and often disappear completely by puberty. Rarely do they persist into adulthood, however, there is no need for treatment. The majority of these spots are gone by around age 2.

Yet another oppotunity to educate!
Since Mongolian spots can easily be mistaken for bruises, they have on occasion triggered accusations of child abuse. If your child had a caregiver, other than yourself, perhaps explain in advance what these marks are to avoid confusion.  If appropriate, consider making others aware who are in regular contact with your child; grandparents, neighbors, or other family members.

And just a little some cultures, Mongolian Spots are considered beauty marks and you're missing out if you don't have them.   (Too bad for us!)

According to one mom, Katie, "My son has the cutest Mongolian spot right on his little booty.  We think it's darling and hope it never fades!"

So...if you notice these spots on your baby, just enjoy them as another unique characteristic of your amazing child and his ethnicity!


  1. Love that you posted this!! I adopted my beautiful daughter a little over a yr ago and she had mongolian spots since birth. When I saw her for the first time I had no idea what they were! (One looked like a bruse accross her bottom). Wish I had known about them before hand! Thanks for posting this!

  2. So funny, when we got home with Boston my friend and I were taking pictures for his birth announcement. As I rolled him over I saw what I thought were huge bruises all over his back. I was flipping out and fortunately the health nurse was coming the sameday. I practically jumped on her as she got in the door and camly she says to me "Oh those are just Mongolian spots". I had no idea so I am glad you posted this so people know about it.