What are Mongolian Spots?

What Are Mongolian Spots
Q:
What Are Mongolian Spots

My daughter was born with a birthmark on her buttocks. The doctor said it is called a “Mongolian spot”. Could you provide information on Mongolian spots, such as what causes them and how parents can deal with them? Thank you Dr. Greene.
A. Hafso – Alberta, Canada

A:

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Several years ago, I met a little girl who had been taken from her parents because authorities noticed that her body, especially her buttock, was covered with large, deep bruises. She and her parents were ripped from one another, for her own good. I can only imagine what they each felt. Child abuse charges were eventually dropped, when these “bruises” were correctly diagnosed as Mongolian spots.

These flat birthmarks can be deep brown, slate gray, or blue-black in color. They do sometimes look similar to bruises. The edges are often, but not always, indistinct. They are most common on the lower back and buttocks, but are often found on the legs, back, sides, and shoulders. They vary from the size of a pinhead to six inches or more across. A child may have one or several.

At least one Mongolian spot is present on over 90% of Native Americans and people of African descent, over 80% of Asians, over 70% of Hispanics, and just under 10% of fair-skinned infants (Clinical Pediatric Dermatology, 1993). Despite the name, Mongolian spots have no known anthropologic significance, except for being more common in darker-skinned infants.

Mongolian spots are nothing more than dense collections of melanocytes, the skin cells which contain melanin, the normal pigment of the skin. When the melanocytes are close to the surface, they look deep brown. The deeper they are in the skin, the more bluish they look. Either way, they are not related to bruises or any other medical condition. They do not predispose to skin cancer or any other problem.

Mongolian spots are present at birth, and most of them fade (at least somewhat) by age two. Most have completely disappeared by age five. If Mongolian spots remain at puberty, they are likely to be permanent. Fewer than five percent of children with Mongolian spots still have any by adulthood. Those who do tend to be the ones with multiple, widespread spots, or with spots in unusual locations.

If your daughter’s spot were in a very unusual location, I might suggest asking her physician to confirm the diagnosis. Since your daughter’s spot is on her buttocks, since these spots are entirely benign, and since most will disappear without trace, I would relax and wait. In the unlikely event that it is still present after puberty, there may (by then) be safe, painless, effective ways to remove them — if she should so choose.

July 30, 2008
Dr. Alan Greene

Article written by

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

 

Comments

  • AS48

    Just came across this article while researching Mongolian spots. My 2-month-old grandson was recently taken away from his parents for a week and a half when his pediatrician noticed what looked like bruises on his lower back during a routine well-baby checkup. Even the doctor – along with 3 other doctors who checked him out – said that it was possible this was a birthmark, and not a bruise. He was taken away anyway. Fortunately, he was able to stay with a nearby relative during the investigation. After all was said and done, Child Protective Services had to apologize for the mistake and return the baby to his parents, saying the bruise diagnosis was incorrect, and what he actually has are Mongolian Spots. I’ve advised my daughter-in-law to get a letter (with photos of the spots) from her pediatrician confirming this fact, and make copies of it to keep with her at all times – in her purse, diaper bag and on record with anyone who cares for the baby – such as daycare or school. This was a nightmarish situation that was completely avoidable, if only the doctor had realized what the spots were in the first place.

  • Sara

    I have a very large Mongolian spot on my face and I am 20 years old. It has never gone away, and maybe i’m paranoid, but it seems as if it has gotten bigger recently. It’s very embarrasing because people always think it’s a bruise, and it’s very noticeable right beneth my eyebrow and very large. Maybe there will be a cure one of these days. :-(

  • Eve Allen

    What if they don’t disappear with age? I was told by two professionals I had a mongolian spot, because of my Native American ancestry. Another said it was a Chocolate Latte birthmark, but the pictures and size of mine do not match. Mine is much bigger with darker spots in it. What am I to think?

    • Conserve Life

      I hope you find an answer, Eve! I’d suggest consulting a dermatologist.