What is a haemangioma, as seen in Call the Midwife?

Episode five features a very common birthmark...

Call the Midwife

So far in series nine, Call the Midwife has covered obstetric fistulas and histoplasmosis and haemochromatosis – and for episode five, we’re diving back into the medical dictionary and taking a look at ‘haemangioma’.

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That’s the word used by Dr Turner (Stephen McGann) to describe a bright-red mark on a newborn baby’s forehead, which is causing quite a lot of stress to first-time dad Ronald Mallen (Karl Davies) and mum Aileen (Carla Langley).

If you’re curious to find out more, here’s what you need to know…

What is a haemangioma?

A bright-red birthmark, known colloquially as a “strawberry mark”.

It may be present birth, in which case it’s a ‘congenital haemangioma’ and has already reached its maximum size, or – as we see in Call the Midwife – it may be an ‘infantile haemangioma’ which appears in the first few weeks of the baby’s life and then continues to grow.

The birthmark is made up of extra blood vessels that form a lump under the skin. Technically it is a form of ‘benign (noncancerous) vascular tumour’.

Stephen McGann plays Dr Patrick Turner in Call the Midwife

An infantile haemangioma starts as a flat red mark and then grows in size, often becoming a raised, spongy, rubbery-looking bump. It’s usually located on on the face, neck, scalp, chest or back.

Over time, the haemangioma usually reaches it maximum size and then slowly disappears. Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) notes: “Haemangiomas don’t usually develop until a few days or weeks after a baby is born, but often grow rapidly in the first three months. It’s unusual for haemangiomas to grow after six to 10 months of age, when most of them tend to have a ‘rest period’ and start to shrink.”

Is infantile haemangioma dangerous?

Treatment usually isn’t needed, and the birthmark generally fades over time. A baby’s haemangioma often disappears by age five and is usually gone by age 10, though some do leave a discoloured patch on the skin or slight raised bump.

Doctors will monitor the haemangioma, but it’s only a problem if it bleeds, forms a sore or becomes infected – or if the lump interferes with the child’s vision or breathing (for instance, if it’s on an eyelid).

What causes haemangioma?

According to GOSH, “We don’t fully know the cause, but there’s evidence that some cases may arise from placental tissue very early in pregnancy.”

How common is this birthmark?

Pretty common! About one in 10 babies have a haemangioma.

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Call the Midwife continues on Sundays at 8pm on BBC One