Families who have experienced pregnancy or infancy loss have often said they feel alone, ashamed, or confused about the situation. If they go on to have a baby after their loss, they are often left to process mixed emotions with little help—if any at all.
Thanks to the ease of communicating with people all over the world via social media, these parents finally have a way to connect with others who are going through the same thing they are. The term “rainbow baby” was coined from this conversation and has become a popular way to celebrate a baby born after the loss of a pregnancy.
Having the language to talk about it is a good step forward, but the experience of being pregnant with a rainbow baby can still feel pretty overwhelming. Here, we discuss what it may feel like to be pregnant with a rainbow baby, how to work through the myriad of emotions that can surface, and how your loved ones can support you as you welcome the new addition to your family while also honoring your angel baby.
What Is a Rainbow Baby?
You may have heard the term “rainbow baby” from friends or social media and wondered what it means. A rainbow baby is a baby that is born after loss. This loss can be a miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy, or infant loss. A rainbow baby can also be an adopted child.
Just as a rainbow comes after a storm bringing color and beauty, a rainbow baby is one who brings hope after loss. Because miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss are very traumatic experiences for expecting parents, it can be difficult to navigate the negative feelings with the positive emotions that come with a new pregnancy and birth.
Rainbow Baby, Angel Baby, and Sunshine Baby
Rainbow baby isn’t the only special term for a pregnancy surrounding a loss. Here are a few other terms that you may see used:
An angel baby is a baby lost during pregnancy or soon after birth.
A rainbow baby is a baby born after an angel baby.
A sunshine baby is a baby born before a loss or an angel baby.
A golden baby or a pot of gold is a baby born after a rainbow baby.
A sunset baby is a twin who passes during pregnancy.
A sunrise baby is the surviving twin during a pregnancy.
While these terms are often thought to bring peace and comfort to grieving and expecting parents, it’s important to ask the parents in your life what terms they would like to use. Not every parent who has experienced a loss will embrace these labels.
How Does It Feel to Be Pregnant Again?
Pregnancy can come with a lot of excitement and tension, and these feelings may be magnified when you are pregnant with a rainbow baby. The most important thing to remember is there is no right way to feel while you are going through this experience.
You may still be mourning the loss of your angel baby while at the same time feeling excitement for the miracle baby growing inside you. You may also fear that you will experience the same loss with this baby as you have in the past. It is also common to be hyper-aware of your feelings during pregnancy after such a devastating experience.
Tips for Easing Your Worries
Between 50% and 80% of women who have experienced a miscarriage will become pregnant again. Of those women, the risk of developing feelings of restlessness or strong feelings of overwhelm during the first trimester is much higher than those who have not experienced pregnancy or infant loss.
There are ways to help ease your worries while pregnant with a rainbow baby. While it’s unlikely that all your fears will disappear entirely, finding ways to reduce them may help you be more present during pregnancy and after your newborn arrives.
Talk to Someone
One of the best things you can do if you are experiencing a lot of worry during a pregnancy after a loss is to talk to someone. You can talk to a friend who has experienced what you are going through, your partner, a family member, or even a therapist.
A doula or midwife may also be especially helpful for someone who is mourning a loss or expecting a rainbow baby. They have experience supporting families physically and emotionally during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Many doulas and midwives are also trained to help parents move past the grief of loss by being a listening ear, showing compassion, sharing helpful tools, and providing calming guidance.
If you find yourself worrying about specific things you are feeling or not feeling during pregnancy, reach out to your ob-gyn. They should understand and acknowledge your fears and help guide you through your pregnancy.
Another way to manage your fears is through meditation. Meditation may help promote emotional positivity and stability, particularly if you use ones tailored to ease feelings of tension, fear, and guilt during pregnancy. You can also try a meditation ritual that focuses specifically on rainbow babies.
It’s okay to feel multiple emotions at once. You can mourn the loss you have experienced and celebrate the new baby growing inside of you. Meditation may be able to help you work through these feelings.
In most cases, moderate exercise during pregnancy is safe. Exercise gives you more energy and helps you maintain a healthy weight. It may also help reduce feelings of restlessness and fear.
Exercise may be the last thing you want to do when your mental health is struggling, especially while pregnant. The good news is you don’t have to start running marathons—or even run at all. Try incorporating simple exercises like walking, swimming, riding a stationary bike, or low-impact aerobics.
Celebrate Pregnancy Milestones
For some, it may be challenging to connect with a pregnancy after loss. One way you can feel closer to your baby is by celebrating pregnancy milestones.
These milestones can be the beginning of a new trimester, telling loved ones you are pregnant, reaching your first few weeks of pregnancy, the first ultrasound, or your first purchase for your baby. Celebrating these joys of pregnancy may help you ease your worries, connect with this pregnancy, and feel gratitude.
What Is It Like To Welcome a Rainbow Baby?
The birth of a rainbow baby girl or boy can bring a lot of emotions. You may feel immense joy, grief, excitement, guilt, happiness, sadness, hope, and fear. There is no right or wrong emotion.
If you are struggling with difficult emotions, it is best to reach out and talk to someone—a friend who has welcomed a rainbow baby, a support group, your partner, your doctor, or a therapist.
How Can You Both Honor Your Loss and Celebrate?
After the birth of your rainbow baby, you may have a desire to do something special to honor the loss that came before while celebrating your new baby. There are many ways you can do this, but a few suggestions are:
If you are looking for a way to keep your babies with you at all times, jewelry may be the right option for you. There are many ways to customize jewelry. Depending on your preference, one idea is to personalize a bracelet, necklace, or ring using your babies’ birthstones, names, or initials.
Another way to honor your angel baby and celebrate your rainbow baby is by having a photoshoot. Many parents of a rainbow baby have a special photoshoot full of color. Often they use the rainbow concept as inspiration. They may put the baby in the “clouds” at the end of the rainbow, dress them in rainbow colors, or wrap them in a rainbow blanket.
Look for a photographer who you feel comfortable with or one who specializes in these types of photos. You may have a lot of emotions during the photoshoot. Having a photographer who understands the importance of these photos and why they mean so much to you may help you feel more comfortable.
Make a Donation
You can honor your angel baby and celebrate your rainbow baby by helping others who will or who have experienced the loss and joy you have felt. You can do this by donating to organizations that help mothers through pregnancy and infant loss. There are also organizations that support mothers’ mental health. Helping other mothers get the support they need is a beautiful way to share the love of your baby with others.
Plant a Tree
Planting a tree in your yard is another way to honor and celebrate your babies. Not only will you have a place you can go to remember your angel baby, but as your rainbow baby grows, you can bring them there and tell them all about their brother or sister. Nurturing the tree may also help you grieve your angel baby.
If you don’t plan on staying in your home for the long term, or if you don’t have a yard, you can also plant a tree that is able to grow in a pot and that can travel with you as you move.
Share Your Story
Unfortunately, many women experience pregnancy or infant loss, yet the conversation around these tragedies is limited. Writing your story down may allow you to process your feelings and, if you feel inspired, you can also think about sharing your story with others who are experiencing similar life events. However remember, if you prefer to keep your writing just for yourself or your family, that is absolutely okay. You may want to share your story with your rainbow baby when they are older, and writing it down can help you remember the little details.
How to Support a Loved One
If you are the friend or family of a parent expecting a rainbow baby, you may be wondering how to help them through this process. The first thing you can do is learn more about what a rainbow baby is and how your loved one may be feeling.
Once you understand more about what they may be going through, you can figure out the best way to support them. While your choice will depend on how close you are to the person and what type of support will be best for them, a few suggestions are:
Respect Their Wishes
The very first thing you can do when it comes to loss is to respect the parents’ wishes. If you’re not sure what they need, ask them. If they communicate that they don’t want to talk about what they are going through, it is essential that you respect that. You can let them know that you will be there for them if they change their mind.
Give Them Space
Some parents need space during the pregnancy and birth of a rainbow baby. They may want to take this time to process their own emotions. They may need to both grieve the loss of their angel baby and celebrate the birth of their rainbow baby.
If this sounds familiar, the best thing you can do for them is give them the space they need. When they are ready, they will let you know.
Offer a Shoulder to Lean On
If your loved one prefers to have their village close to them during the pregnancy and birth of their rainbow baby, you can show up for them in whatever way they need. Listen to their feelings, sit with them through their anxieties, and celebrate the exciting milestones they experience.
Help Them With Responsibilities
Do you have time to offer a hand with the chores, shopping, or other household maintenance? Go to your loved one with a plan for how you can take over their daily chores or some other aspect of their workload, even if you can only offer one-time or temporary help.
Can you come every week to clean their bathrooms? Are you available to take them to their appointments? Can you help make their large monthly or bi-monthly grocery trip? Let them know what you are able to do and leave the decision up to them on how you help.
Asking someone who is already overwhelmed, “What can I do for you?” adds another layer of stress. More often than not, people who are overwhelmed don’t even know who to ask for the help they need. By bringing them a plan, they may be more likely to accept your assistance and support.
Send a Rainbow Remembrance
If you are unsure of what to do for your loved one, and they have opened up to you about their experience, you might think about sending them a rainbow remembrance. It may be something for the baby—blanket, onesie, stuffed pillow—or something for the parents—jewelry, a picture frame, or an ornament.
Sending a remembrance will let them know that you are thinking of them and their new addition. It also shows you care without forcing a conversation that they may not be ready to have.
Welcoming a rainbow baby into the world is filled with so many emotions. It is essential to work through these emotions, honoring the loss of your angel baby while celebrating the birth of your rainbow baby, in whatever way works best for you.