Rainbow Baby

Rainbow baby's fist with rainbow reflecting on fingers in article about what is a rainbow baby and r...
Roxana Wegner/Getty

What Is A Rainbow Baby?

Here’s what makes them extra special.

by Romper Staff
Originally Published: 

Rainbow babies hold a special place in their families’ hearts. But before you go on thinking all babies are like little magical unicorns and should be called “rainbow babies” — it sounds so adorable, you might be tempted to do so — it is actually a specific phrase that reveals a particular hardship the family went through before their baby arrived. So what is a rainbow baby or even a double rainbow baby? You might want to sit down for this one.

Definition of a rainbow baby

“A rainbow baby is a baby who is born after a loss such as miscarriage, still birth, or death in infancy,” parenting coach, lactation consultant, and mom of two rainbow babies Leigh Anne O’Connor tells Romper. “They are called rainbow babies because they are a beam color and hope after a storm or dark time.” The term "rainbow baby" alludes to the particular happiness and relief (among other emotions) that you feel giving birth to a baby after you've come through the emotional storm of losing one.

As such, a double rainbow baby refers to a baby born after two back-to-back losses.

It’s unclear when the phrase originated, but it became more widely recognized (especially amongst those outside of the community) when Missouri-based photographer Alex Bolen captured a stunning image of mothers and their rainbow babies. Not only was the photo visually moving, the story of each mother's loss was documented as well. Although each story is different, the common thread between them is the joy and hope experienced after the hardship of loss.

Although rainbow babies bring much happiness to a family, the swirl of emotions can be overwhelming for some moms. ”Parents who have a rainbow baby may have conflicting emotions, great joy for this new baby, fear of losing this baby who is here, and in some cases there can be guilt feelings,” says O’Connor. Parents in this situation may benefit from additional support by joining a community (in-person or online) of people who have experienced similar loss and gain, or seeking help from a therapist.

Supporting rainbow baby parents

How should you react when a loved one is expecting a rainbow baby? “All new parents need support, but rainbow parents may need extra. The people around them need to be aware of this heightened sense of responsibility or added anxiety,” says O’Connor. Only mothers who have experienced this know what it's like to wander this particular minefield of feelings. When someone you know tells you they're pregnant with a rainbow baby, being aware and sensitive will show them how much you love and support them.

Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography/Moment/Getty Images

This is an anxious time for the family, and every family is going to feel their own unique feelings and are likely approaching this pregnancy cautiously. But there ways to show that you acknowledge their loss and want to be supportive in big and small ways.

Here are some ways to support a rainbow pregnancy:

  • Use the name of the lost baby warmly and without hesitation and don't change the birth order to exclude the lost child
  • Send a rainbow to the family to honor the loss while celebrating the pregnancy (this suggestion comes from rainbow mom Jennifer Canvasser’s HuffPost article).
  • Suggest a list of meaningful names that feel especially well-suited for their rainbow baby
  • Put together a rainbow-themed gift box (a children’s book, something for the nursery, a onesie, cookies for mom, etc.)

In general, celebrating the arrival of rainbow babies also calls for compassion for their parents and families. “It is important to honor the babies who didn’t survive, acknowledge their existence no matter how brief. They were real; they were sparks of hopes and dreams and should not be erased,” says O’Connor. Rainbow babies are a gift to be celebrated, but being mindful of the feelings and emotional state of the parents is key when rejoicing in this news, so tread carefully. And when in doubt, humble yourself and be honest — let your friend or family member know that you want to celebrate their news as much as they are comfortable with but you don’t want to overstep and the last thing you want to do is trigger their anxiety. Just giving them a safe space to vent about their fears might be just what they need.

And after the rainbow baby is born, when National Rainbow Baby Day (August 22) rolls around, You have permission to throw them the sweetest celebration.

This article was originally published on