What it means to have a rainbow baby

If you're expecting a rainbow baby, it's normal to have conflicting emotions: You may feel worried and anxious as well as excited and hopeful.

woman wearing colorful nail polish holding her pregnant belly
Photo credit: Getty Images

What does "rainbow baby" mean?

The term "rainbow baby" describes a child who is born after a previous miscarriage, stillbirth, or death during infancy. The rainbow is a symbol of the radiant beauty that can come after a devastating storm, and the term "rainbow baby" is meant to both celebrate a new baby and honor a loss. The concept of rainbow babies has taken off on social media through rainbow pregnancy announcements, birthday posts, rainbow emojis, and hashtags.

"Rainbow babies represent life after loss. Hope after despair. Love after sadness," says BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board member Juli FragaOpens a new window, Psy.D., a psychologist and health writer in San Francisco.

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Not all parents are comfortable with the "rainbow baby" wording, though. Some don't feel that a storm is the right metaphor for their lost pregnancy or baby. You don't have to use this term if it doesn't feel right to you.

What is it like to be pregnant with a rainbow baby?

For some parents, expecting a rainbow baby can surface difficult emotions and grief for the "angel baby" who was lost – or even trigger anxiety and depression.

"Having a rainbow baby can be a reminder of previous loss. In addition, it's common for pregnancy loss and miscarriage to cause anxiety about future pregnancies," says Dr. Fraga.

Losing a baby, no matter how far along you are in your pregnancy, can bring on a tidal wave of emotions – and there's no one right way to feel. It's normal to be angry, jealous, guilty, lonely, empty, exhausted, and panicky, according to the U.K.-based nonprofit The Miscarriage AssociationOpens a new window.

Losing a pregnancy or infant can lead to severe and long-lasting mental health issues. According to a 2020 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & GynecologyOpens a new window, 16 percent of women report experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nine months after experiencing a miscarriage. Other research has found that parents who experience stillbirth – defined as a loss after week 20 of pregnancy – may be more likely to experience anxiety and depression a year or more after the loss.

The idea that becoming pregnant again can ease the pain of a previous loss is a common one. But it's rarely that simple, says Dr. Fraga, who who co-developed and co-facilitates a postpartum depression support group called The Afterglow at the University of California, San FranciscoOpens a new window (UCSF), where she is a volunteer assistant clinical professor.

Studies suggest that pregnancy loss increases the risk of anxiety and depression during a subsequent pregnancy, particularly if a woman has experienced multiple losses. One 2021 studyOpens a new window concluded that women who experienced pregnancy loss were 35 percent more likely to require postpartum psychiatric treatment in the six months after their following birth than those who had not lost a previous pregnancy. Other research has found that women with a prior pregnancy loss are more likely to experience sadness or low mood during a later pregnancy.

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Of course, these studies only show trends. They don't at all predict whether you'll experience any mood disorders – or even feel blue – during or after your pregnancy. Some expecting moms feel joyful, excited, afraid, anxious – or a combination of these and other emotions, both positive and negative.

Conflicting feelings can be difficult to manage during a rainbow pregnancy. Here's what moms in the BabyCenter Community's Rainbow Babies group have to say:

"I just found out I'm pregnant again. We're over the moon excited, but I'm scared to death at the same time."

"After losing a baby – especially at birth! – no one tells you how hard it is to be pregnant again. No one tells you how anxious you'll be or how it's hard to differentiate the current pregnancy from the last one."

"I'm excited mixed with guilt mixed with complete joy."

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"I'm trying so hard to be positive, but I'm a nervous wreck. All I'm doing is comparing this pregnancy to my miscarriage."

"We had our first ultrasound yesterday, and we felt zero connection to this baby. When I was 6 weeks with our first I was crying because I already loved him so much. I feel no emotional connection to this baby. No joy or excitement. Nothing."

"I didn't tell anyone I was pregnant because I was letting fear strip my joy. My midwife connected me with a therapist who specializes in fetal loss. It's been helpful. With every small milestone I feel a little bit better and it gets a little bit easier."

If you're having a difficult time emotionally during your rainbow pregnancy, talk to your care provider. They may suggest additional pregnancy monitoring, which many parents find reassuring.

Your healthcare provider can also help you find a good therapist who can work with you throughout pregnancy and beyond. "The more support, the better," says Dr. Fraga.

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Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you identify and reframe unhelpful thoughts related to your pregnancy loss, according to the American Psychological AssociationOpens a new window.

How can I celebrate my rainbow baby and honor our loss?

There's no "right" way to celebrate a rainbow baby or honor an angel baby. Individuals, societies, cultures, and religions have differing norms and traditions about mourning death and welcoming life.

Do what feels best for you and your family, whether that's sharing your loss with the world or just close family and friends. "Perhaps it's a special blessing, a journal entry, or celebrating with loved ones," says Dr. Fraga.

Here are some ideas to inspire you:

  • Tell your story. Sharing your experience with others can help you feel less isolated, help you process your grief, and make room for hope.
  • Establish an "angelversary." Set aside time annually to remember and honor your lost baby or babies.
  • Plant a tree or flowering bush. Plant one tree for each child, or use special plaques to commemorate each life.
  • Personalize jewelry. Initials, interlocked hearts, or entwined rings can be wearable symbols of your enduring love for all your children.
  • Get a tattoo. Creative designs that leave space for future babies can be beautiful lifelong reminders of all your children.
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See more ways to honor your loss.

To celebrate your rainbow baby, you may want to:

pregnant woman holding a customised rainbow ornament
Getty Images
  • Wear colorful clothing: Shop for a rainbow shirt for yourself, or a rainbow onesie for your baby, and wear it with pride.
  • Make a festive ornament: Personalize a rainbow ornament with your baby's name, birth date, or a quote.
  • Host a rainbow-themed baby shower: Honor your previous pregnancy loss – and the joy of your coming birth – with rainbows on your invitation, decorations, party favors, cake, and even snacks.
  • Journal about your experience: Recording how you're feeling throughout your pregnancy using words or photos is a great way to document your pregnancy and help you process your emotions.
  • Schedule a rainbow baby photoshoot: During pregnancy, paint your baby bump with rainbows or dress in a multicolored outfit for your maternity photoshoot. Once your baby has arrived, you could also create a rainbow backdrop for some of their birth photos.

Also, there are many fun and creative ways to share the news of your rainbow baby:

  • Balloon bouquet: Gather a balloon in each color of the rainbow and pose your belly or your baby with it.
  • Poetic letterboard: Spell out a special message or poem and include the month your rainbow baby will be born. Wording ideas: "Without the rain there would never be rainbows," or "Our rainbow after the storm."
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What is National Rainbow Baby Day?

National Rainbow Baby Day falls on August 22. It's a time when families can rejoice in the blessings of a healthy child while reflecting on the previous loss. Many families participate simply by posting about their experience on social media.

National Rainbow Baby Day is also an opportunity to build community and awareness around pregnancy and infant loss. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the March of DimesOpens a new window, and 1 percent of pregnancies end in stillbirth. Yet many parents grieving the loss of an infant feel discouraged and alone. Sharing messages of support, healing, and hope can be cathartic.

Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

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Cleveland Clinic. 2023. What To Expect as a Parent of a Rainbow Baby. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Cambridge Dictionary. Undated. Rainbow Baby. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

March of Dimes. 2023. Miscarriage. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

The Miscarriage Association. 2023. Second Trimester Loss: Late Miscarriage. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. What is stillbirth? a new window [Accessed May 2023]

National Instititues of Health. 2022. What are the possible causes of stillbirth? a new window [Accessed May 2023]

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Westby CL, et al. 2021. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD after stillbirth: a systematic review. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth volume 21, Article number: 782 a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Chojenta C, et al. 2014. History of Pregnancy Loss Increases the Risk of Mental Health Problems in Subsequent Pregnancies but Not in the Postpartum. PLOS ONE 9(4): e95038 a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Reardon DC, et al. 2021. Effects of Pregnancy Loss on Subsequent Postpartum Mental Health: A Prospective Longitudinal Cohort Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. Feb; 18(4): 2179. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Colleen de Bellefonds
Colleen de Bellefonds is a freelance health and lifestyle journalist. She's raising her toddler daughter and newborn son with her French husband in Paris.