September 5th, 2011
10:14 AM ET

What are Mongolian spots?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Question asked by C.C. from Atlanta:

My newborn son has blue birthmarks on his back. The doctor called them Mongolian spots (but we are not Asian) and said they are found in darker skinned babies and not to worry. Our other kids didn't have them. What are they? Will they go away?

Expert answer:

Thanks for your question. Mongolian spots (technically named congenital dermal melanocytosis) are flat bluish-green, gray or light brown areas where cells called melanocytes have been trapped in a layer of the skin called the dermis.

These spots are present at birth or within a few weeks after and are usually on the buttocks and back although they can show up anywhere on the body.

Although named after a country in Asia, Mongolian spots can be found in any baby with relatively dark skin, including the majority of babies of Native American, Asian, Hispanic or African-American descent. In contrast, fewer than 10% of Caucasian infants have Mongolian spots.

Ask our doctors a question

For families looking for a nongeographic name for these birthmarks, I have suggested using the term "ink blots," but Mongolian spots are a commonly used term in the health care field.

Mongolian spots usually fade to a large extent, if not completely, within the first decade of life (often within the first few years). They may sometimes be associated with extremely rare - seen in fewer than one in every 100,000 newborns - metabolic problems such as mucopolysaccharidosis or gangliosidosis. If in doubt about the blue marks, be sure to double-check with your pediatrician as your son gets older or consider a visit to a dermatologist.

Since these birthmarks may sometimes be mistaken for bruises, it may be a good idea for your pediatrician to document their location in your son's medical record.

Follow @CNNHealth and @LivingWellDoc on Twitter.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.