pregnant woman holding rainbow decoration

Pregnant with a Rainbow Baby: The Grief and Joy of Expecting After Loss

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
June 18, 2024

Pregnancy is often seen as a joyful time, but there are situations where emotions can be more complex. Being pregnant after a miscarriage or loss is one of them.

A rainbow baby is the child you’re pregnant with or adopt after a previous pregnancy loss or infant loss. This term is thought to come from a quote from author and therapist Shannon L. Alder, who once said, “After every storm, there is a rainbow.”

Approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 21,000 babies are stillborn each year in the U.S.

A rainbow baby is seen as a beautiful thing after a dark time, says Allison M. Remy, licensed social worker and director of Parent Bereavement Programs for University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s.

This bright spot after a difficult experience can feel joyful, but it may also bring up other feelings, including grief.

All Feelings Are Valid When You’re Pregnant After a Miscarriage or Loss

If you experience grief, anxious feelings, and/or fear after a pregnancy loss, know that that’s common, says Gina Moffa, a New York City-based licensed psychotherapist and the author of Moving On Doesn’t Mean Letting Go: A Modern Guide to Navigating Loss.

“Holding feelings of grief over the baby who died and, at the same time, hope and joy over the current unborn baby is a normal yet challenging task of pregnancy after loss,” agrees Rayna D. Markin, Ph.D., licensed psychologist at Attune Philadelphia Therapy Group and author of Psychotherapy for Pregnancy Loss: Applying Relationship Science to Clinical Practice.

These mixed feelings can sometimes be unexpected. “We’re taught that if we’re able to have a baby again, we just celebrate that joy and leave the pain behind us,” Moffa says. But anyone who has gone through pregnancy or child loss knows that may be an impossible task.

It can help to accept any difficult feelings you have and find ways to honor your grief and joy at the same time.

How to Manage Grief When Having a Rainbow Baby

Grieving during an otherwise joyous time may leave you feeling guilty or confused, but remember that all of your emotions are valid.

“Instead of pushing yourself to only see the rainbow, also honor the rain,” advises Moffa.

Give yourself permission to remember your loss and honor grief, however it may or may not show itself.

Seek Support from Others

It’s important to have support to help you process what you’re going through, says Remy. She recommends the online resource RTZ HOPE, an organization that offers support groups and programs to help grieving parents. “It can be helpful to talk with other families who are also going through this pregnancy after loss journey,” she says.

Support may also look like leaning on your partner, family, or friends, speaking with a mental health therapist, or finding another local or online support group.

Pick a Special Day to Commemorate Them

“It can be nice to have a dedicated time to say, ‘This is when I'm honoring my [lost] baby,’” Remy says. You can choose when and how to do that. For example, it could be the anniversary of the day you found out when you were pregnant with the child you lost.

October is Pregnancy, Infant, and Child Loss Awareness Month, and every year on October 15th, a globally recognized event known as the Wave of Light ceremony occurs. During this event, you’re encouraged to light a candle and leave it burning for at least an hour in memory of your loss and others’.

There’s also National Rainbow Baby Day, which happens on August 22 each year. This is a time to celebrate your rainbow baby, but also to honor your journey and share your story of loss. Take some time to reflect during this day. If you like, you can post on social media, and connect with others who are participating, too.

Create a Personal Memorial

A memorial can be an event, ceremony, item, or special place that’s meant to remind you of your loved little one. It can be anything that feels meaningful to you. “Perhaps you grow a garden dedicated to them, or release lanterns on what would have been their birthday,” says Moffa.

“There are so many beautiful ways to honor your loss, and it can change and shift over time to meet your changing emotions,” says Moffa.

Talk About Your Angel Baby

Talking about the lost child and how they continue to be in your life may bring you comfort. Some people like to refer to them as an angel baby.

“It can be helpful to form a narrative or story of how the baby who died lives on in your family—for example, as the big brother who is watching over his little sibling,” says Markin. If you follow a faith, looking to it may help you better understand how you want to talk about your lost angel baby and how they’re a part of your life.

Be Careful to Separate the Pregnancies

“It's important to validate that one baby cannot simply replace another,” says Markin. Your new pregnancy will likely not erase the grief of your previous loss.

“Writing one letter to the baby who died and another separate letter to the subsequent baby, keeping separate ultrasound pictures of the two babies, naming both babies, and making a memory box can all be helpful ways of separating these babies in one’s mind,” she says. These can be important steps in helping you process your grief.

Work with a Therapist

If you’re having trouble managing your grief on your own or with the support of loved ones, talking with a professional mental health therapist may help you.

Ways to Celebrate Your Rainbow Baby Pregnancy

A rainbow baby can bring a sense of healing after loss. As Moffa says, “There is a beautiful sense of hope and joy that comes along with what feels like a miracle to come after so much pain and grief.”

Among any grief you feel, remember to tap into that hope and joy, too. Being pregnant with your rainbow baby is an occasion worth celebrating in unique ways.

“Having some ways to celebrate your rainbow baby and let them know how special they are, but also incorporating the sibling that maybe they never got to meet is really special,” says Remy.

Consider these ideas:

Make a Rainbow Baby Announcement

Sharing the news lets other people celebrate with you, too. For some, sharing may mean posting a rainbow baby pregnancy announcement on social media.

Others may choose a private celebration with their closest loved ones. And some people may prefer not to celebrate until their baby is here.

These tips for announcing your pregnancy or baby’s arrival may be helpful in choosing what you’d like to share in an approach and timing that works for you.

Follow a Rainbow Theme

If you’d like to, lean into the celebration with rainbow themes. For example, says Markin, you can decorate the nursery with some rainbow-themed items. Or you could pull the theme into your baby shower, if you have one.

Read Books About Rainbow Babies

There are several books about rainbow babies that can help you tap into the joy and love you’re feeling. Remy recommends Rainbow Letters: A Book for Rainbow Babies. “It’s something you could read yourself, but you could also read it to your rainbow baby as they’re growing up to let them know just how special they are.”

Take Maternity Photos

A pregnancy photoshoot is a great way to capture this exciting time and the anticipation of welcoming your little one. Hire a photographer or get a loved one to take some snaps of you with your bump.

Remy recommends also reaching out to Project Finding Your Rainbow by Journey for Jasmine. This project passes a rainbow skirt among families to take photos with, to help unify and inspire others who’ve experienced a pregnancy or infant loss. You can take pregnancy photos or newborn photos with the skirt to celebrate “finding your rainbow.”

Take some time to consider and do what works best for you, big or small. “There is no one right way to celebrate,” says Moffa. “Anything that brings love to the forefront is the path.”