What Is a Rainbow Baby?

rainbow baby

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The term "rainbow baby" refers to a healthy baby born to parents who experienced a previous loss through miscarriage, stillbirth (the death of a baby in utero after 20 weeks), neonatal death (the passing of a baby shortly after birth), or other infant loss.

The symbolism of the term comes from the idea that a rainbow only appears after the darkness of a rainy, stormy sky—just like rainbow babies are only born after the pain of loss. First coined by grieving parents on blogs and chat rooms, the term has grown in popularity with the rise of social media. Today, many people associate it with rainbow-themed pregnancy announcements and baby photos that are meant to convey hope and healing.

But carrying a "rainbow baby" is about more than just beautiful photographs. Expectant parents often have mixed emotions during pregnancy and after birth as they navigate commemorating the child they lost while also celebrating a new life.

What Is a Double Rainbow Baby?

A double rainbow baby is the term for a healthy baby born to parents who have experienced two previous losses.

Pregnancy With a Rainbow Baby

When pregnant with a rainbow baby, there can be a lot of ups and downs over those nine months (and beyond).

Emotions During Pregnancy

While you are pregnant with a rainbow baby, expect to feel a range of different—and sometimes conflicting—emotions. It is common to feel hope, joy, and excitement one moment, then anxiety, nervousness, and fear the next. You may even experience them all at once.

This seemingly contradictory experience is partly because you may still be grieving your loss. In fact, research has shown that both parents can grieve their loss much longer than they might have expected, even after the birth of their rainbow baby. Because of this grief, your new pregnancy might trigger feelings of deep sadness when you don't expect them. For example, milestones might bring up difficult memories, or you might find yourself tearful after meeting a friend's newborn.

Some parents also struggle with feelings of guilt during their rainbow pregnancy, particularly if they feel positive emotions like excitement or joy. Some worry that their happiness means that they aren't honoring their lost child.

Others experience intense feelings of worry or anxiety because they're consistently afraid of another miscarriage or stillbirth. Sometimes, they find it difficult to stop thinking that something is wrong with their baby, even when there are no indications of a problem. Sometimes, fear of another loss can cause parents to feel disconnected from their pregnancy.

How to Find Support

Choosing a doctor or midwife who knows your medical history can be helpful because they might better be able to understand your fears and triggers. You can also ask for certain accommodations during your checkups, such as asking for an ultrasound tech who will be sensitive to your fears. Many doctors, hospitals, and training programs are making extra efforts to be sensitive to the unique needs and experiences of a person going through pregnancy after loss.

Talking with a trained therapist can also help you manage anxiety and stress throughout the process. Speak with your OB provider about a referral to a mental health provider if you are having difficulty coping or managing your emotions during your pregnancy.

There are also many wonderful organizations, both online and in-person, dedicated to helping people navigate pregnancy after loss, such as Pregnancy After Loss Support or Dr. Jessica Zucker's "I Had A Miscarriage" website. Some parents also find support groups helpful during this time.

Surrounding yourself with supportive people, while protecting yourself from less-understanding ones, can also be a good idea in general. That's why some parents may choose not to disclose their pregnancies to friends and co-workers in order to avoid difficult conversations or well-meaning, yet hurtful, comments. Others may want to let their family and friends know early on in their pregnancy so that they can get extra emotional support throughout the whole journey. Everyone is different—so what you tell others about your pregnancy is entirely up to you.

Postpartum Emotions

The mixed emotions that come with having a rainbow baby don't necessarily end when your child is born. According to research, nearly 20% of those who experience early pregnancy loss develop depression or anxiety, which can last up to three years. Others experience post-traumatic stress following a pregnancy loss.

It is important to be prepared for your grief to last. No child can replace a child you've lost and while you might be too busy at first with your newborn to realize that you're still grieving, it's possible for sadness and grief to pop up when you don't expect it—just like it can during pregnancy. For example, it might catch you off guard during nap time or when your baby outgrows their newborn outfits.

You might also be at risk for continued anxiety or finding yourself worried that something might happen to your newborn, especially when you're not near them. If these feelings become constant or interfere with your day-to-day, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help.

Support a Friend Expecting a Rainbow Baby

If you have a friend who is expecting a rainbow baby, you may be wondering how to best support them throughout their pregnancy. The good news is that there are many ways you can show your support and care. Some people may worry that if they have never had a miscarriage or pregnancy loss, that they should avoid reaching out to someone who is expecting a rainbow baby, but that is not the case.

Don't worry about feeling awkward or uncomfortable talking to your friend about the pregnancy. It's actually worse to ignore your friend. Instead, ask about how your friend is feeling and what you can do to help support them. Sometimes, just listening can go a long way.

Avoid saying anything that dismisses your friend's pain, grief, or worries. Sometimes people say well-meaning, but ultimately insensitive, things to someone expecting a rainbow baby that can hurt their feelings. Similarly, don't make excuses for anyone that offends your friend. It's important that your friend feels like you're on their side—not someone else's.

If you want, you can pick out a special gift that honors the rainbow baby, such as a rainbow wrap or a rainbow-themed outfit. Or you can get your friend a special self-care gift, such as a prenatal massage or a pedicure. You can also help your friend find a photographer that specializes in rainbow baby photoshoots for a special surprise after the baby is born. Photographers who are sensitive to the experiences of families with rainbow babies are skilled in honoring the families' memories of their loss in ways that are meaningful to them, while still celebrating the love and beauty of their rainbow baby.

Just remember: Gifts aren't a substitute for being a good support system to your friend both before and after the baby is born. Don't be afraid to be there for your friend; visit, call, or text, and let them know that you are thinking of them.

Support Your Partner During a Rainbow Pregnancy

If your partner is experiencing a rainbow pregnancy, it's important to maintain an open line of communication. Both of you went through the loss, and you may still be grieving, too. Share your feelings and listen to your partner's needs. It's healthy to discuss how the loss affected you before the pregnancy and now that you're expecting a rainbow baby. In fact, you can help your partner feel less alone in their potentially complicated feelings if you share.

Ask how your partner would like you to help support them. There is no right or wrong way to have a rainbow pregnancy and baby, but by checking in with each other, it can be a positive experience for both of you. This is especially true if you handle big decisions, milestones, and any ups and downs together.

A Word From Verywell

A pregnancy or infant loss is a traumatic experience. So if you've experienced such a loss and are expecting a rainbow baby, remember that the emotions you feel aren't going to go away overnight—even when you have a new baby on the way. Remember to give yourself space to grieve even as you celebrate new life. It can also be really helpful to surround yourself with supportive, understanding people—whether that's your partner, a friend, a family member, a therapist, a support group of parents who've also experienced loss, or even a caring doctor.

If you're supporting a friend or partner through their rainbow baby pregnancy, remember that the best thing you can do is be there to listen. Try not to judge or dismiss their feelings. Check in with them as their pregnancy progresses and consider helping them find ways to celebrate their rainbow baby while still honoring the child they lost. That is the best way you can help them navigate this confusing and emotional time.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Chaunie Brusie, RN
Chaunie Brusie is a registered nurse with experience in long-term, critical care, and obstetrical and pediatric nursing.