What Is a Rainbow Baby? (Pregnancy After Loss)

After the turmoil and darkness of a storm, when light breaks through the clouds, sometimes we are lucky enough to see a rainbow.

Like the miracle of a rainbow after a storm, many mamas refer to babies born after loss as their rainbow babies. 🌈 The rainbow doesn’t erase the storm, nor does the arrival of a new baby eclipse the tragedy of previous pregnancy loss.

The rainbow sends a message of beauty, promise and hope to those who see it.

Pregnancy loss and its long lasting emotional effects impacts a huge number of mamas.

  • Statistics on miscarriages are more difficult to pin down, but research on the general population of pregnant women suggests that 15-25% of verified pregnancies end in miscarriage. (source)
  • Currently, one out of 160 pregnancies in the United States end in stillbirth. (Stillbirth is defined as a death in utero after 20 weeks gestation.) My mother, Alyce, had a stillborn at 6 months– a beautiful baby girl with light blonde hair who weighed in at 2 1/2 pounds.

Significance of a rainbow baby

Pregnancy losses can be devastating, but most women go on to mother again. In doing so, they face the complicated emotional journey of mothering after a miscarriage or stillbirth.

More and more women—sometimes called rainbow mamas—are sharing their birth stories about becoming a mother after loss. In doing so, they are pulling a topic that has long been considered taboo out of the shadows.

Here are dozens of rainbow baby birth stories in our birth story gallery.

With the help of social media, love for rainbow babies and their rainbow mamas has blossomed. This growing awareness is a gift for mamas and papas who may feel misunderstood and lonely in the face of the typical pregnancy narrative, which pushes joy and excitement onto many expecting parents.

“Us loss mommas have a little bit of a different journey and sometimes our experiences are not captured in regular mom circles even though we are regular moms,” explains Trish, a Mama Natural reader who reached out to us to share her story of loss.

Trish lost her baby Joislen at 40 weeks and is now 36 weeks with her rainbow pregnancy.

Understanding the reasons behind pregnancy loss

Following a miscarriage or a stillbirth, most parents are consumed by the search for answers.

What happened? Why did it happen? How can I prevent this in the future?

Growing awareness of miscarriage and stillbirth has opened up a conversation about preventing pregnancy loss, although in many cases the causes aren’t clear.

Some maternal factors are linked to higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirth, including certain illnesses (like diabetes, lupus, and preeclampsia) and certain behaviors (like smoking and drug use).

Women whose BMIs classify them as obese as well as women who are older than 35 are also more likely to experience a stillbirth. (sources and source)

For reasons that are still unknown, black women across all socioeconomic class and age categories are almost twice as likely to experience a stillbirth than white women. Researchers are looking deeper into this statistic, but many questions still remain. In light of this fact, it’s especially important that black women have good prenatal care and work with providers whom they trust and with whom they feel comfortable communicating.

However, more than half of stillbirths have no known cause, and many occur in pregnancies that were otherwise healthy and low-risk.

Additionally, 80% of miscarriages occur before 12 weeks. Many of these first trimester pregnancies showed no other signs of abnormalities. It’s important to work with your doctor or midwife if you have a history of repeat miscarriages to address any underlining issues like hormonal imbalances, genetic conditions, etc.

However, many times, there aren’t concrete reasons for the loss. Because of this, mamas often feel a complicated mix of emotions about becoming pregnant again, wondering what will happen this time around.

Navigating grief and remembering the loss

For many mamas of stillborns, it’s essential to recognize themselves (and be recognized by others) as mamas. “My motherhood was so important to me,” says Trish about the time immediately following Joislen’s death. She felt apprehensive about drying up her breast milk. She didn’t want to erase her identity as a mama even though Joislen wasn’t with her.

Trish, like many parents, chose to spend time with her stillborn baby after birth, cuddling her before saying goodbye. She chose to take photographs of Joislen and carry her outside into the sunlight. Trish also found that creating and cherishing keepsakes from her pregnancy with Joislen eased the grieving process. She now wears a necklace with a pendant that contains Joislen’s ashes and another heart-shaped pendant made from the breast milk her body produced during Joislen’s pregnancy.

As time passes, it’s important for many parents to honor and certain dates associated with pregnancy loss. Due dates, birth dates and death anniversaries are especially poignant. Grief knows no timeline. Many families will choose to acknowledge these dates and the existence of their angel baby long after a loss occurs.

The mom’s grief will not necessarily end with the arrival of a rainbow baby. As Heather Spohr poignantly writes in her letter To the Mother of a Rainbow Baby, “Every day, you will be able to breathe a little bit deeper. Every day, you’ll love your babies — all of them — just a little bit more, until one day, that love overtakes the pain.”

Celebrating your rainbow baby

Many mamas choose to celebrate their rainbow baby pregnancy in a special way, including with maternity photoshoots. One of the most famous of these photoshoots was done by photographer JoAnn Marrero.

This amazing photo captures the joy of mama-to-be Jessica, who suffered six miscarriages before posing for this image with her rainbow baby.

Amazing Rainbow Baby photo by JoAnn Marrero on Mama Natural

Building community around pregnancy loss

Many mamas find solace and support in sharing their stories of loss and celebrating the rainbow pregnancies that come after. In 2014, following a traumatic miscarriage, Dr. Jessica Zucker, a psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health, started the #Ihadamiscarriage campaign. She urged women to share their honest miscarriage stories on social media as a way of shedding the stigma and guilt that has long surrounded pregnancy loss.

The hashtag evolved into a celebration of the triumph and courage of rainbow pregnancies.  The campaign’s visibility has only grown in the years since. Dr. Zucker now makes sympathy cards for mamas experiencing pregnancy loss and celebratory cards specifically for rainbow mamas on their journeys.

Thanks, in part, to the #Ihadamiscarriage campaign we can now find mamas on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram sporting rainbow tee shirts to acknowledge their pregnancy losses while building solidarity with a struggling community. There’s even a tiny rainbow baby onesie and a tee shirt for rainbow dads as well!

Parenting after loss

What can mamas expect during a rainbow pregnancy and beyond? Each journey to motherhood after loss is different, but many rainbow mamas have spoken out with common descriptions of the emotional experience.

“A baby after loss is scary. There’s no such thing as a normal pregnancy pain after you’ve miscarried, no such thing as a normal sneeze after your baby has died,” writes Heather Spohr in her letter To the Mother of a Rainbow Baby.

Like Heather, many mamas have shared about feeling anxious and hyperaware following a pregnancy or infant loss. They may be happy about their rainbow pregnancy, but they’ve learned in the most difficult way to temper their expectations. As a result, allowing excitement and joy into their hearts might simply feel too scary.

There’s also a complicated mix of emotions that comes with the discovery of a rainbow pregnancy: Will this baby make it? Will this baby erase the memory of the angel baby that was lost? Loss mamas might find themselves longing for the baby that did not survive rather than only looking forward to meeting the new life growing inside them.

The experience of mothering after loss is never simple, and there is no one way for mothers to navigate the grief and joy of a rainbow baby. If you’re in this position, know that your complicated feelings are normal. Reach out to others on the same path for support. Take gentle care of yourself. Seek counseling if need be. Continue to honor yourself as a mother in grief no matter how long ago your loss may have happened.

For friends and family supporting a mama of loss

If you’re helping a mother through pregnancy loss or on her journey to becoming a rainbow mama, consider these ways to help.

  • Offer unconditional support – Listen without offering advice or suggesting that she feel any one way about her loss or her rainbow pregnancy.
  • Honor her as a mother – Remember that she feels like a mother even though her baby is no longer here. Embracing her motherhood may be important and healing for her. Even for mamas who miscarry early in pregnancy, their identity as a mother cannot be erased after loss.
  • Encourage her to connect with others and share her story if she feels comfortable – March of Dimes has an online community for women to support each other during and after stillbirth. Pregnancy After Loss Support (PALS) is a community support resource for “women experiencing the confusing and conflicting emotions of grief mixed with joy during the journey through pregnancy after loss.” Searching social media for #Ihadamiscarriage reveals countless stories of the sorrows and joys of parenting after loss.
  • Know that grief is an ongoing, lifelong process – Don’t expect mamas to stop grieving a pregnancy loss once a rainbow baby arrives. Resist saying things like “you’ll get pregnant again” or “you’ll have another baby” to comfort her.

Understanding kick counts

Trish reached out to MamaNatural with her story of loss, in part to raise awareness about kick counts during pregnancy. We encourage all mothers (not just those considered high risk) to use this as a way to bond with your baby while also protecting them from the risk of stillbirth. Here’s what you should know:

  1. Most mamas begin to feel fetal movements between 16 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. Begin by taking note (literally! A journal can be very handy here) of your baby’s movements.
  2. Take 30 minutes to an hour to notice how frequently your baby moves. This is a wonderful time to practice mindful connection with your baby. Count the number of flutters or kicks that you feel during this time.
  3. Once you know what normal is for your baby. Take note of your baby’s kicks as your pregnancy progresses. You’ll likely begin to notice the time(s) of day that your baby is most active. Become familiar with your baby’s individual movement pattern.
  4. Around 28 weeks, begin to count kicks daily. Choose a time of day when your baby is typically active. Lie down on your left side. (This is the best way to keep ample blood flow to the baby in utero.). Then, record how long it takes for your baby to make 10 kicks. If you prefer something more high tech than a pen and paper, there is even an app to keep a daily record of fetal kicks.
  5. While previous advice on counting kicks recommended that mamas feel for at least 10 kicks in an hour, new guidelines emphasize that you should first understand what’s normal for your baby. Act if you notice any change from that baseline of normal. (After all, babies can have anywhere from 4 to 100 fetal movements in an hour. A very active baby could be in distress and still communicate with10 kicks within an hour.)
  6. A decrease in fetal activity is the most common way babies in utero communicate distress. Know your baby’s movements in order to recognize warning signs. Don’t wait to call your midwife or doctor if you notice a change.

Quick recap on rainbow babies

  • Pregnancy loss is more common than many people think
  • Like a rainbow after a storm, many mamas refer to babies born after loss as rainbow babies
  • The causes of pregnancy loss are still mostly unknown
  • Rainbow babies can bring great joy, but may not erase the grief of a previous loss
  • Mamas are banding together to raise awareness of pregnancy loss
  • Kick counts during pregnancy can help counteract the risk of stillbirth

Your turn…

Have you experienced a pregnancy loss? Are you a rainbow mama? Share your story in the comments below. What helped you in your journey? What do you wish others knew about parenting after loss and supporting a rainbow mama?

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18 Comments

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  1. I am so incredibly blessed. My oldest is a rainbow baby, he is 8. I had 2 miscarriages before him. The professionals tell you to look to your mother to determine your fertility, and we still don’t know how my mom got me (several years of taking fertility drugs, and none when she somehow conceived me). We figured it wouldn’t happen, but we were able to have him. Then we had 2 pretty girls, another miscarriage and rainbow boy, who is now 3, another baby boy who is 19 months, 2 more miscarriages, and another sweet rainbow boy die in February. There is no explanation for my come and go fertility, but we love every one of our children!

  2. My rainbow baby is due in the next week or so and like your article mentioned it is a rollercoaster of emotions when you find out you are expecting after loss. It is never just the innocent joy you felt prior to the loss because you have the tragic what if looming over you. Once I made it to full term I felt the other confusing emotions of happiness and relief but also not wanting to forget my first precious child turned angel. Anytime a stranger asks if this is my first child I want to say technically no but don’t want to get into it with a stranger so I just say yes.

    I had a missed miscarriage which means I had no symptoms and I feel like I found out in the worst possible way, when my husband and I went in for a ultrasound only for the tech to realize there was no heartbeat and then tell us the devastating news. To make matters worse my body did nothing so I had to go in to the hospital and have a D&C to remove the baby from my womb. I don’t wish this experience or pain on anyone and I will never forget my first baby who I know was a girl. Anytime I share that we lost our first it never fails that the woman I share it with shares a miscarriage story too. I plan to take photos of our rainbow baby and incorporate a rainbow in one of his photos and share on social media to share our story with others. If our pain can help someone else it will have been worth it. Women shouldn’t feel they can’t share their miscarriage stories and sharing your rainbow baby is a positive way to open the conversation.

  3. Dear Genevieve,
    I received your newsletter during my pregnancy. My baby was moving a lot. He was laying in transverse position and I did all the exercises I could to get him to turn. We did an ECV, external version, in week 36 and he moved without problems and stayed head down. I was so relieved, looking forward to a natural birth. I was just going to write to you, give you a feedback to please mention monitoring fetal movement/counting kicks, when I thought: I’m just gonna check if she really didn’t say anything about it in the newsletter. I came across this and was still convinced you had not mentioned it in the newsletter. No one ever told me about the importance of fetal movements. Had I been aware, my son would most probably be here today. So I found it in Newsletter of Week 31, along with the topic of how to flip breech. I felt really sad. I must have skimmed through and looked more deeply into the other topic. Yes, it says if baby doesnt move for an hour or two call your midwife. But that passed my brain unnoticed, because he was so active all the time, it wasn’t an issue for me. 7 days after the external version all was fine, supposedly. They did only one doppler throughout the pregancy, in week 21, all seemingly perfect. So the night of the 9th to 10th day after the turning of the child he wa overly active for one night. I did wonder a bit but discarded it. Also, since turning him he had reduced movements. Then the movements nearly stopped and then completely stopped. It took us quite long to realize and wonder and call my midwife. Maybe 48 hours after the last kick, the last we consciously remember. Figure that. I’m well informed, well educated. I soaked up all information I could get. Yeah maybe not in touch enough with my intuition or also let’s say just carefree, trusting, because supposedly all was well. My son passed at 37+5, I assume. I just did not pay any close attention to when and how much he had moved, except for being joyful and touching my belly when he did, but not thinking anything of when he did less. I thought it had to do with the changed position. Here we are, my husband and me struggling a great deal. This is tough. I miss him.
    Genevieve, please, I know we don’t want to scare women, but please do not mention it just as a sidenote. The carefree way of writing was just too casual to reach me. Btw as a non-native I remember I also didn’t know what OJ meant and was confused about that, which distracted me from the message as well…
    Thanks for the work you do,
    Annika

    • I forgot to add: obduction showed the placenta had a limited diffusion capacity thus not providing him sufficiently towards the end of pregnancy when his needs were bigger. There was no way to know though. For some reason that I still don’t understand, he was normal in size, slim but in normal range, and we only found out later his organs were a bit smaller (about 3 weeks smaller in gestational age than his body). He would have lived well and normally and caught up though.

  4. I lost my forth baby at 20 weeks. It feels almost greedy or indulgent telling my story as I am blessed with 3 gorgeous, healthy children. This pregnancy and loss was a miracle in itself however, it acted like crowbar and forced me to open up and address and heal deep old wounds that I would potentially never have dealt with any other way. The birth process was also bitterly ironic as I did it alone at home, naturally, a small triumph in the bleakness after 3 c-sections. One of the most difficult parts of this experience was telling people that I’d miscarried and having to deal with their grief, it was really challenging. This process taught me so much about how to really support people in the grieving process. I am now pregnant again… to put it mildly this pregnancy is a huge HUGE surprise, I had really reconciled myself to not having anymore children, it’s early days still and I’m really struggling with doubt and disbelief. Much love to the other brave mamas here!!!

  5. My first pregnancy in 2014 ended in a miscarriage at 11 weeks. A year later I was pregnant again with my Rainbow baby. Throughout my entire pregnancy with my Son I was a basket case. We went to L&D all the time just to settle my nerves. He has been a true blessing to our family. During my pregnancy I finally realized that the timing of my first pregnancy was not right and that everything happens for a reason.

    Two Weeks ago we experience the loss of another baby at 12 weeks. This time around the grieving is even harder as we saw the babies heart beat 3 weeks prior. Knowing that this angel was here and now is gone is the hardest part. I am trying to remember that everything happens for a reason, and to cherish my Son even more. This post really helped me feel like there is a community out there that I can lean to for support.

    Thank you.

  6. At 21 I had my first child stillborn. I was 24 weeks pregnant and she didn’t even weigh a pound. We named her Holly Sophia. Fast forward to 7 years later and I’m about to have my third rainbow baby. She was my only girl. I’ve got all boys now! Being so young and having such a horrible loss was terrifying. I feel like the important thing to remember is not to expect to get back to “normal”. That normal doesn’t exist. I read a quote once that said something along the lines of “there are moments where you realize nothing will ever be the same. Time is divided into ‘before this, and after this'”. And that is so true. There’s before I had holly, and after. But after has been beautiful too.

  7. In March of this year we found out we had lost our little daughter (our 3rd child) at around 20 weeks. It was so shocking and unexplained. I was induced to give birth to her, and even though she was tiny the birth was just as intense as my first two. We felt the peace of God so strongly through it all, though, and still do as we continue to heal. I just found out I am pregnant again, a bit sooner than we expected, and am afraid to let myself get too excited, but praying this one will be born happy and healthy!

  8. My second child, my son Hudson, was born at 39 weeks via C-Section. We knew from 14 weeks pregnant that he had Trisomy 18. We chose a C-section so that we could meet him alive. And we did. He wasn’t breathing at first but after 30 minutes he started breathing on his own and did so for 8 hours. After 8.5 hours of a beautiful life he went to the arms of Jesus. 11 months after Hudson’s birthday my daughter Keziah was born. It was a completely unexpected pregnancy. At first I wasn’t ready and I cried, I was still deep in grief. But her little life has been incredibly healing. On Hudson’s first birthday Keziah was about 3 weeks old. Holding her in my arms while I remembered Hudson was a beautiful gift I could not have imagined. I also have a 3 year old who has walked this journey out with us too. She knows about Hudson and remembers meeting him in the hospital. His pictures are on our walls so he will not be forgotten…. I love you my little boy!

    • Precious 💓 What a gift to hold him… and you will again. Xo

  9. Our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. When I got pregnant with our daughter, I wasn’t online much, and had never heard of the term “rainbow baby.” Once I did learn it, though, I told her that’s what she was, and she thinks it’s the best thing ever. lol. I’ve had five successful pregnancies since then.

    One thing I would just say to partners and family members and even caregivers during a woman’s first (second, third) post-loss pregnancy would be to be patient. I know I was an absolute basket case during my daughter’s pregnancy. Every twinge, cramp, or tug was enough to send me into panic mode. It was by far the most stressful of my pregnancies.

    I would also just say to validate that, no matter how early in the pregnancy the loss occurred, a child has been lost. Not a clump of cells. Not what “would have been” a “real baby” as someone so delicately put it to me. A baby. Let her know he/she mattered and that you remember the pregnancy and child. Even if you never saw him/her. My mom has Christmas ornaments and other keepsakes to memorialize the baby we lost and she still thinks of that baby as one of her grandchildren. It’s nice that someone other than me remembers.

    I also just really wish it was considered normal to mention thinking about them. Like, not in a depressed way. But, if sometimes crosses my mind that he would have been this old or that I just passed my would-have-been due date. I’m not sobbing about it. I’m not depressed. It’s just remembering something about one of my kids the same I would any of them. I wish I could mention it at times without people assuming I’m in a bad place or something.

    • So true. I love your mom’s perspective. I do believe we will meet those babies again on the other side. 🙏🏻

  10. In January 2016 I had a stillborn at 21weeks 5 days. We are unsure of what happened. I had a dr apt Wednesday and everything was fine, went to OB ED Saturday and found out that our baby boy, Myles, had no heartbeat. I was induced that night and he was born sleeping the next afternoon. We did not have funeral services for him but he was cremated and me and.my husband both have necklaces with some of his ashes in them. Our August 2014 LO has a build a bear with Myles heartbeat in it. We waited several months to start trying for our rainbow. We got pregnant in June 2016 and miscarried then got pregnant again in July 2016 and miscarried. I underwent several tests and everything was coming back normal except for a clotting factor. I was put on 2 baby aspirin daily and found out I was expecting again in November 2016. We just welcomed our sweet rainbow baby, Charlotte, on July 10 2017. She is so beautiful and peaceful. I believe that her angel siblings were watching over her the whole pregnancy. I had many anxieties the entire pregnancy but everything was perfect. Prayers and faith kept us all going. ❤

    • What a journey… that must have been heart wrenching. So glad you have your Charlotte, your angel babies and the aspirin solution.

  11. I experienced two miscarriages and now have my rainbow baby, Josiah. My pregnancy with him was emotional and difficult but he is such a blessing! I actually started a local nonprofit called Sent from Heaven with a friend. We create care packages for families when they lose a child. It’s a heartbreaking but beautiful ministry. You can read my full story and my cofounder’s on our website.

    • So beautiful! Love your ministry’s name… perfect!

  12. I’m a rainbow mama with twins. 🙂 I miscarried with my third pregnancy. Precious baby was around 5-6 weeks but miscarried around 7-8 I was heartbroken as was my husband. It was such a sad and emotional time for us. This was in May 2012. I had a 6 mo journey of regulating my hormones after the mistake of taking Methotrexate. I felt pressured by the doctor to take it even though my heart was saying not to. It was horrible. It made me feel so sick. I took supplements to get my folic acid stores up and regulate my body as it was so off. Accupunture was a God send! Then we found out we were expecting again in Oct 2012. In Nov we found out it was twins! Ahhhh! It was such a surprise! And an amazing blessing. Funny story was I prayed and asked God for twins and his will of course. I just felt gee we are older and if it’s a girl we’d try again for a boy so we can pass on my husbands name and it would just be so awesome if we can have a girl and a boy. That way I didn’t have to wait for my stores to replenish. Well that prayer was answered a girl and a boy. 41 weeks and 3 days later He was 8.13 and she was 7.9! Now they are 4yrs old!

    • What a double blessing! Thanks for sharing your story as it helps other mamas. And way to go… those were some big twin babies!

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