As an expression of hope, a rainbow baby refers to a baby born or adopted into a family after the death of a fetus, newborn, or child. A rainbow is a symbol of light and hope following a storm, and there is no greater storm than the loss of a child.
A rainbow baby is a child born or adopted into a family after miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of an infant or child.
Having a rainbow baby is common after pregnancy loss. About 85% of women who have miscarried will conceive again.
Grief is a natural process following the death of a child and is different for everyone. Learning to cope with grief is an essential part of the healing process.
A rainbow baby can bring great joy and hope to a grieving family.
What is a rainbow baby?
A rainbow baby is a term used amongst parents in the baby and child loss community to describe their baby born after experiencing a miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, or death of a child. The term is not exclusively used for a birth following the death of an infant. It can also refer to families who have lost older children or adolescents.
A rainbow symbolizes that there is still beauty following a horrific storm. It does not erase the memory of the storm nor the damage the storm has caused, but it is a reminder that even beauty, light, and hope can shine through the darkest of times.
Experiencing the loss of a child
It doesn’t matter at what stage of life your child existed; they mattered and meant the world to you. Surviving the death of a child is like a nightmare you cannot wake from. Your world has ended, yet the world is still going on around you, and you must wake up every day and face your reality. It is unfathomable grief that never ends but changes over time. One does not get over grief, one must learn how to live with it.
Every life and every death are unique, and each person grieves differently. There are many reasons a family must face the harsh reality of losing a child.
Pregnancy loss is a lot more common than many people may think. It is estimated that 10% of confirmed pregnancies are lost to miscarriage. No matter the stage of the pregnancy, miscarriage causes intense grief that should not be minimized. A miscarriage is generally defined as the death of a fetus prior to the 20th week of gestation.
When a baby dies after the 20th week of gestation or during delivery, their death is described as a stillbirth. About 1 in 175 births are stillborn. Some stillborns have an explained cause of death, while others remain unexplained.
Sudden unexpected infant death (SUID/SIDS)
If a baby dies after birth, it may be classified as a death caused by Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID) or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). About 3,400 infants (under the age of one) die every year in the United States due to SUID. The cause of death is not always known, but may also include accidental suffocation or strangulation in bed. This is why safe sleep guidelines for babies are important to follow.
Accidents, trauma, suicide, illness, and cancer are some other causes of death in children. 1 in 26 children under the age of 5 died in 2021. Globally, the common causes of death in children include illness, infectious diseases, complications during birth, or congenital anomalies.
In 2020, the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the United States changed from motor vehicle accidents to firearm-related deaths. Poisoning or drug overdose became the third leading cause of death for this age group.
Grief – how to identify and cope with it:
Grief is a natural emotional process that occurs when someone you care about has died, although it is not limited to death. Grief can occur with any type of loss, like losing a pet, financial losses, divorce, and health changes. Grief is powerful, and it is a unique experience for everyone.
A person should never be judged on how they grieve or for how long they suffer. Some grief, like losing a child, will stay with you forever. Learning to manage and cope with one's grief will eventually help with the day-to-day functioning that is required to carry on living.
Grief is an emotion and energy consumer and can even cause physical symptoms. Some symptoms of grief may include the following:
- Extreme sadness, stress
- Shock, disbelief, apathy
- Anxiety, depression
- Tiredness, low energy, fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Anger, guilt
- Heart changes (Broken Heart Syndrome)
Coping with grief is an important part of the healing process, and it starts with the acceptance and understanding that grief is very real, it varies for everyone, and it should not be ignored. Discussing your grief with family or friends may be a helpful way to express those built-up emotions and stresses.
Speak with a professional therapist, especially one who specializes in grief counseling for parents who have lost a child. They are able to listen and provide feedback and skills to help manage grief.
A lot of parents find it helpful to conserve as many memories of their child as possible. Some parents may only have a positive pregnancy test as their memory. Still, it is helpful to create memories through artwork, photographs, a memory box, or any other method that helps preserve the memory of the child and the love that was felt for them and will continue to be felt forever.
Having a rainbow baby
About 85% of women who have experienced pregnancy loss will go on to have another baby. Some families choose to have another child after losing one, or they may end up having an accidental pregnancy.
There are a range of emotions to consider when having a rainbow baby. Not everyone feels excited—they may be angry, scared, or feel guilty about having another child. While pregnancy is meant to be a joyous situation, it can cause sadness, anxiety, and depression. These feelings are common, and just like grief, it is healthier to accept these emotions, talk about them, and try to cope with them.
A rainbow baby pregnancy and birth may bring back many memories of the child that passed away. While wanting to feel happy and excited that their rainbow baby has taken its first steps, parents may suddenly feel deep pain and sadness when old memories flood in.
But like a beautiful, glowing rainbow after a dark storm, having another child after losing one can bring hope for the future when that hope was lost. Cherish the memories of your previous child, continue to feel that love for them and talk about them. Your new rainbow baby can be the light at the end of the tunnel. They do not replace the other child; they create new joy, love, and hope for a brighter future.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is Stillbirth?
- STATPearls. Miscarriage.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About SUID and SIDS.
- America's Health Rankings. Child Mortality in the U.S. in 2022.
- World Health Organization. Child mortality and causes of death.
Show all references
- American Academy of Pediatrics. Safe Sleep.