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Folklore, Facts, and Fallacies

By Estelle Schweizer

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When we decided to do an updated and fresh look at old wives’ tales about birthmarks, I thought I’d have a hard time finding anything new. Although I did find many of the standard tales, I also found a whole slew of interesting folklore, facts, and fallacies about birthmarks.

Let's start with something you might not have heard before . . .

  • When Mammaw Roberson was pregnant with Aunt Paige, someone saw a very pretty moth in some bushes. Mammaw Roberson was very interested in looking at the moth. Knowing that she was pregnant and that she could mark the baby if she wasn’t careful, she very cautiously placed her hands on each inside thigh to bend over and witness the moth. Her thinking was that if she did mark the baby it would be in a location that no one would ever see. I was told by mom that when aunt Paige was born, she did indeed have a small birthmark on one thigh that resembled a moth.
    --submitted by Rod Roberson

  • Mammaw Lewis loved peaches. She also canned thousands of jars of them over her illustrious canning days. I recall walking through her basement, lined with shelf after shelf of peaches and other canned produce to include her incredible sauerkraut. When Mammaw Lewis was pregnant with mom, she was at the family store when a bushel of peaches were delivered. They were particularly large and sumptuous looking. She saw the delivery man bringing them in and, before thinking she might mark her baby, grabbed the back of her hand with the other and exclaimed, “Oh, I just love peaches,” to the delivery man. When mom was born, she had a brown, peach-shaped mark on the back of her hand that covered the entire back of the hand. This one, I can attest to, because it stayed with mom all 79 years of her life and she told the story of her birthmark proudly all those years.
    --submitted by Rod Roberson

  • The Japanese refer to Mongolian spot birthmarks as a "blue spot," and they say it is a mark made by Kami-Sama, the goddess of childbirth.

  • People of the Blackfoot tribe believe in reincarnation. If a baby was born with a birthmark, it signified a battle wound in a previous life.

  • In Blackfoot mythology, Poia was the son of the Morning Star and the mortal woman Soatsaki. The Morning Star took Soatsaki to the court of his father the Sun in Heaven, hoping to grant her immortality. But she preferred Earth to Heaven and the Sun, insulted, sent her back to Earth to bear her son, and then let her die. The child was born with a port-wine birthmark- hence his name - and grew up with the Blackfoot people. He asked to marry the chief’s daughter, but was rejected as 'blemished'. He set out to find his grandfather the Sun and ask for help, leaving the land and walking West across the sea on the path made by the Sun's reflection on the water. In Heaven he rescued his father Morning Star from seven birds of darkness, and the Sun rewarded him by removing his birthmark. He hurried down to Earth, along the Milky Way, and took his mortal beloved back into Heaven just as his father had fetched his mother there long before.
    ---From the Probert Encyclopedia

And now for some interesting trivia. Hey, if it ever comes up during a game of Trivial Pursuit, you might just win another piece of the pie!
  • Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, was believed to be a witch because she had a strawberry birthmark on her neck.

  • In French, the word for birthmark is “envie” (desire); in Italian, it's “voglia” (wish or craving); and in Spanish, it’s antojo (whim or craving). The use of these words for “birthmark” can be attributed to the popular tale associating the occurrence of a birthmark to the mother’s unfulfilled desire, wish, whim, or craving during pregnancy.

  • In Kazakhstan, the name Mensly means “beautiful birthmark.”

  • For many centuries and in many cultures, vascular birthmarks and other physical anomalies were thought to result from the mother's emotions during pregnancy, a theory known as "maternal impressions." According to this belief, any fears, desires, or strong emotions a woman experienced during pregnancy could have a profound effect on her child's appearance . . . .
    It was widely believed that the expectant mother's mental state not only caused vascular birthmarks, but also influenced their shape and location. For example, should a pregnant woman crave or eat excessive amounts of strawberries, her child might have a vascular birthmark resembling a strawberry. Should she be startled by something and touch her face in fright, a vascular birthmark would appear in the same place on her infant's face. Some of history's most renowned physicians were proponents of this theory . . . .
    In the mid-18th century, the physician and anatomist William Hunter conducted a clinical study in which he concluded that pregnant women's emotions were unrelated to vascular birthmarks. This conclusion was supported by the work of his brother, John Hunter, who demonstrated that there was no direct communication between the circulatory systems of the mother and her unborn child, the route by which the mother's emotions were supposedly transmitted to the fetus.
    Although the theory of maternal impressions continued even into the 19th century, it was questioned by most physicians. By the end of that century it was dismissed as humbug, at least within the medical community . . . .
    ---From Children's Hospital Boston

And finally, let's dismiss the ridiculous, yet amusing . . .
  • If you drink too much coffee while you are pregnant, your baby will be born with a café-au-lait spots (light-brown birthmarks).

  • If you eat strawberries while you are pregnant, the baby will have a strawberry birthmark.

  • If you touch your body while walking through a strawberry patch, your child will be born with a strawberry birthmark on that same spot.

  • If you look at a mouse while you are pregnant, your baby will be born with a hairy birthmark.

  • Storkbite birthmarks are called such because they appear on the back of the neck where, accordingly, a stork may have picked up the baby.

To read more "old wives' tales" about birthmarks, check out our original compilation.
As always, if you know of or find an old wives’ tale or interesting bit of trivia, please send it to and we’ll try to add it to our list!

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