Most babies aren’t born with pristine skin. Their brand-new skin is thin, delicate and susceptible to discoloration. Although some conditions can cause lifelong skin discolorations, most or all of a young infant’s splotches, blemishes and fluctuating shades of blue and red will diminish within a couple of months.
Two common types of skin discoloration in newborns are skin mottling, which presents as a pattern of reddish and pale areas on the skin, and acrocyanosis, which shows up as blueness in the hands, feet and lips. An infant with a yellow tinge to his skin and eyes likely has a condition known as infant jaundice. Red, brown, black and dark bluish splotches are typically birthmarks. Abrasions such as scratches and bruises can also cause skin discoloration.
Skin mottling and acrocyanosis are common in newborn babies, as humans are initially born with unstable blood circulation at the surface of the skin. Infant jaundice is common in preterm newborns (prior to or around 36 weeks gestation) whose livers haven’t matured enough to clear a chemical called bilirubin from the body. Birthmarks can be inherited but generally aren’t, and they aren’t usually related to any skin trauma during birth. Alternately, skin abrasions are typically caused by the trauma of childbirth and will generally heal within a week or two.
A Serious Cause
In many normal births, newborns change colors—typically from blue to red, with a residual bluish tint in the hands and feet—within the first few days of life. However, a baby whose body consistently has a bluish tint may have a more serious underlying condition, according to the University of Virginia Health System. This blue coloring, called cyanosis, is a sign of breathing problems or a symptom that occurs when a baby’s heart isn’t properly pumping oxygenated blood through the body.
Although most instances of skin discoloration don’t signal serious problems, some may become more serious if they go untreated. For example, severe jaundice, untreated, can cause brain damage after bilirubin passes into the brain. Brain damage due to jaundice may cause permanent complications such as hearing loss, involuntary and uncontrolled movements, a permanent upward gaze and intellectual impairment.
Although many skin discolorations go away on their own, some conditions may require treatment. Moderate or severe jaundice is commonly treated with light therapy, which alters the structure of all bilirubin molecules in a baby’s body, ultimately allowing them to be excreted through urine and feces. Underlying causes of cyanosis may be treated with additional medications or heart repair surgery. Finally, birthmarks causing disfigurement and additional physical problems may be treated with laser therapy, surgery or steroids.