Rainbow Babies – Experiencing New Life After Loss

Rainbow Babies – Experiencing New Life After Loss

What is a Rainbow Baby?

What is a rainbow baby? The term “rainbow baby” is used to describe a baby born after a previous pregnancy or infant loss. Some people also use the terms “double rainbow baby” to describe a baby born after two losses and “rainbow pregnancy” to describe a pregnancy that is progressing normally after previous early loss(es). 

What is an angel baby? Parents may use the term “angel baby” to describe the baby they lost.

What is a sunshine baby? The term “sunshine baby” is used to describe a child who was born before a loss.

Describing a child as a rainbow baby or angel baby or sunshine baby is a helpful way for some parents to make sense of their experience, find comfort in their loss, and/or to share about their parenting journey.

The Meaning Behind “Rainbow Baby”

The meaning behind the name “rainbow baby” comes from the symbolism of a rainbow after a storm: representing anything from beauty to hope to a promise. From my work as a therapist, I find it to be a fitting representation as long as I imagine the rainbow appearing while evidence of the recent storm is also still visible – in the same view in which I can see the rainbow I can also still see the rain, flooding, hail on the ground, damage to buildings or trees, etc.

So to me, having a rainbow baby isn’t about “moving on” after a loss, but rather it is a unique experience involving a mix of both joy and grief

Therefore, while I see the term most commonly used when the previous loss is a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, or even an unexpected and tragic death of an older child, I have found that many parents identify with the term even if their baby was born in the midst of grieving other kinds of losses. For example, when a baby is born after one or both parents recently lost one of their own parents or a sibling….or when couples conceive through fertility treatment but may be grieving not being able to conceive “the normal way” or not having a child that is biologically theirs if donor eggs, sperm, or embryos were used. 

Ways to Honor a Loss

It’s important to understand that not all parents find comfort in or embrace the terms rainbow baby, angel baby, or sunshine baby. They may dislike how the terms connect one experience to another when they would prefer to keep them separate…or they don’t like the negative connotation implied by referring to their previous baby as a “storm”…or thinking of the child they lost as an angel doesn’t fit with their understanding of angels according to their religion or doesn’t fit because they don’t believe in angels at all.

This is totally okay! There is no one right way to grieve or honor a loss and you should never feel pressured to view your experience in a certain way. If others are aware of your loss and call any of your children by one of these terms, then feel free to simply let them know “We prefer not to think of it that way” or “We prefer not to call him/her that.” No added explanation is necessary.

For other parents, using the term “rainbow baby” is one of the ways to honor a miscarriage or other pregnancy/infant loss, or one of the ways to remember a miscarried baby or baby who died during or after delivery, that resonates best with them. It may feel like the most genuine way to celebrate their joy while also acknowledging and grieving their loss. 

How to Celebrate a Rainbow Baby

If the idea of a “rainbow baby” or a “rainbow pregnancy” resonates with you, if it brings you a greater sense of hope or joy or peace, then feel free to celebrate it at whatever time feels right for you! Some feel ready to shout the news as soon as the stick turns pink, but it’s okay if this time around you want to wait longer to announce your pregnancy or maybe even have a “Sip and See” (Meet the Baby Party) after your baby is born rather than a traditional baby shower.

Here are a few ways you can use rainbow imagery to celebrate and welcome your baby:

–       Have a colorful or rainbow-themed baby shower or party (before or after baby arrives)

–       Incorporate rainbow backgrounds or colorful props into your maternity or newborn photos

–       Decorate your baby’s nursery with rainbows – paint a rainbow on the wall or choose a rainbow mobile or crib sheets covered in little rainbows (if super bright colors aren’t your thing, rainbows can be made up of any grouping of colors – try searching for “muted” or “boho” rainbow décor) 

A Word of Caution

There is a large subset of baby product marketing aimed at parents who want to celebrate their rainbow babies. Unfortunately, if you search “rainbow baby nursery” you will find countless rainbow-themed products that aren’t safe for infant sleep (padded bumpers, pillows, blankets)…as well as countless more products like swaddles and crib sheets that are portraying unsafe sleep in their marketing (brand new baby sleeping on their tummy, baby sleeping under a loose blanket or sleeping while wearing a hat, using a lounger/nest in the crib, using a wedge or other positioner, having stuffed animals in the crib or bassinet).

I honestly don’t know if the people designing and marketing these products are just clueless or if they are disgustingly cavalier about sleep-related infant deaths. But parents who have already experienced loss especially don’t deserve to be misled or tricked into putting their baby at risk of dying a preventable death.

So please make sure you learn how to practice safe sleep with your precious new arrival. I talk more about how to create a safe sleep environment for your little one here and you can access my free guide on the most popular, unsafe sleep products to avoid here

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