A rainbow baby is a healthy baby born to a parent or family who has previously lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal death. The term refers to a baby’s ability to help the parent or family heal after experiencing trauma.
In recent years, some people have started to use the phrase “rainbow baby” to refer to a baby who is born after the death of a previous baby. It means that the baby offers hope and healing after a dark and traumatic time.
Rainbow babies can also stir up complex feelings and emotions. People may feel grief and guilt, as well as relief and excitement.
A rainbow baby is a baby born to a family that has lost a previous baby to any of the following:
When a baby dies in the womb before week 20 of pregnancy, doctors call this a miscarriage.
Around 10 to 15 of all pregnancies that the pregnant parent is aware of end in miscarriage. Miscarriage occurs most frequently in the first trimester.
Infant death, or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), describes the sudden and unexpected death of a baby less than 1 year in age.
According to the
Stillbirth is the death of a baby either shortly before or during delivery.
Every year, around
Neonatal death is the death of a baby before they reach their first birthday. Doctors sometimes call this infant mortality.
In the US in 2020, the infant mortality rate was
Causes of neonatal death may include heart defects, injuries, or genetic health conditions.
Whatever the cause, losing a baby is an incredibly traumatic time for a parent or family. People may find it hard to believe or accept, and they may feel angry, confused, or sad. The grief can sometimes be overwhelming.
However, many pregnant parents who experience the loss of a baby are able to become pregnant again.
The baby loss community coined the term “rainbow baby” because the child signifies fresh hope and joy after a period of grief and trauma.
It reflects the well-known saying that a rainbow always follows a rainstorm.
Rainbow babies often prompt mixed emotions in people. People may have conflicting feelings, including guilt, relief, and excitement, sometimes all at once. This is perfectly normal.
It is important to remember the excitement for the new arrival and grief for the lost baby are both valid emotions and are by no means mutually exclusive.
Tips to help people through the grieving process include:
- doing something to remember a lost baby, such as planting a tree, or framing hand and footprints
- marking Rainbow Baby Day, on the 22 August each year, by sharing the story online, or with friends and family
- finding and joining a local support group. It can be very helpful to speak with people who have had similar experiences
However, this is
People may worry about history repeating itself, or having to endure the grief all over again. This is natural but there is help out there for people dealing with these feelings.
Helpful relaxation strategies include practicing breathing exercises, meditation, slowly counting to 10, or focusing on a soothing word, such as “peace” or “calm.”
Pregnancy-safe exercise, whether it be a brisk walk, a cycle, or a yoga class, can also help to relieve anxiety.
People can also try talking about their feelings with:
- a healthcare professional
- a counselor
Sometimes it can help to speak with people who have been through a similar experience. Groups such as Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS) offer online and in-person support groups.
Depending on the reason for the loss of a baby, doctors may want to monitor a rainbow baby during pregnancy.
This will be different for everybody, so the best thing a pregnant person can do is talk with their healthcare team about their individual circumstances.
Patient advocacy group March of Dimes offers the following advice to people who feel they are ready to get pregnant again after losing a baby:
- get a preconception checkup
- take a multivitamin that contains 400 mg of folic acid every day
- eat a balanced diet
- do something active every day
- do not smoke, drink alcohol, or use illegal drugs
The baby loss community often refers to rainbow babies as miracle babies.
This is because they represent light and hope after a dark and traumatic time and their arrival can mark the beginning of a time for healing and the start of a new chapter.
However, the birth of a rainbow baby and the joy and healing they bring does not mean that a parent or family can or should forget previous pregnancies or babies who have passed.
People all grieve in their own way, and a person may or may not carry the grief of a lost pregnancy or baby with them for the rest of their lives. There is no shame in this. Even after the birth of a rainbow baby people can still honor and treasure the memory of a pregnancy or baby they lost.
The baby loss community often uses the term rainbow baby to mean a baby born to a family that has previously lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, or neonatal death.
The term symbolizes fresh hope and light after a dark and traumatic time.
Families can often experience mixed feelings when expecting a rainbow baby. The excitement may be tied up with feelings of guilt, for example. They may also feel anxious about the impending birth. Both are perfectly normal.
Many people find it helps to speak with someone who has had a similar experience through online or in-person support groups.