A pregnancy after miscarriage or stillbirth may bring up mixed emotions. Here’s what to expect.
By Anna Bonet
When you’re trying for a baby, finding out that you’re pregnant is usually a joyous experience. But if it follows a miscarriage, stillbirth or loss, you might experience a range of emotions among the joy, such as sadness, confusion and anxiety.
Here’s what to expect when you’re expecting a rainbow baby, including how your pregnancy might feel different and the best expert advice on parenting your newborn:
What is a rainbow baby?
A rainbow baby is a child born to parents who have been through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death.
‘The term symbolises hope and light after a dark time, but it’s important to note that a rainbow doesn’t erase the storm that came before,’explains midwife Sophie King of Tommy’s baby charity.
‘Although the arrival of a rainbow baby is celebrated, families will never forget the siblings who didn’t make it, so pregnancy and parenting after loss can bring up complex emotions,’ she adds.
Planning a pregnancy following loss
If you’ve lost a baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, it can be difficult to start thinking about trying again. That’s why The Pregnancy Clinic’s Professor Ranjit Akolekar, an accredited sub-specialist in Fetal-Maternal Medicine and Obstetrics, advises on allowing plenty of time and preparation ahead of beginning your journey to becoming a rainbow baby parent.
‘The ideal journey of having a rainbow baby starts with planning before getting pregnant,’ Akolekar says. ‘This is my area of speciality and I routinely see all mothers and parents 6-8 weeks after their pregnancy loss to reflect on the journey of the pregnancy leading up to the events of the loss.
It symbolises hope and light after a dark time, but it’s important to note that a rainbow doesn’t erase the storm that came before.
‘This meeting has many potential advantages; first, it allows parents to have some degree of closure; second, it may at times mitigate some personal guilt as knowing that it was not their fault and that the events were unpredictable,’ he continues.
‘Third, it provides them with accurate evidence-based information about not just causes but also potential recurrence risks for future pregnancies and lastly, when no cause is found, the silver lining in the cloud is that the loss was a chance event with an unlikely risk of happening again.’
What to expect with a rainbow baby
If you’ve fallen pregnant with a rainbow baby, you may be facing some complex emotions.
Joanne*, who, following three miscarriages, had a rainbow baby herself, says: ‘The first trimester was a haze of suppressed anxiety for me. I couldn’t relax into the pregnancy. I told no-one at all bar my husband. We didn’t even tell our friends until a way into the second trimester.’
‘Previous loss can increase anxiety during a current pregnancy as it can be hard to reassure yourself that history won’t repeat itself again,’ says Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr Ellie Rayner (@MaternityMedic). ‘You may also feel guilty for feeling happy about your rainbow baby and that this somehow dishonours your previous loss.
‘It is really important to remember that having a rainbow pregnancy isn’t about forgetting your previous baby, instead it is about accepting the light and hope that has presented itself.’
Rainbow baby pregnancy advice
So, when you’re facing all these difficult emotions and confusion, how can you ensure you have a safe and balanced pregnancy? Here are some top tips from the experts and those who’ve been through it:
🌈 Acknowledge your feelings
‘If you are pregnant with a rainbow baby, it is important to acknowledge your feelings and allow yourself to be open and honest about these emotions to those closest to you,’ says Dr Rayner.
🌈 Derive comfort from regular check-ups
‘It is paramount that a pregnancy with a rainbow baby would need to be managed with close monitoring, often with a specialist in Fetal-Maternal Medicine,’ says Professor Akolekar. ‘Reiterating the normality of findings in the current rainbow pregnancy will allow parents to derive comfort and confidence at every step of the way.’
Sophie King agrees, adding: ‘Healthcare professionals also offer support throughout the journey, such as extra scans for reassurance during pregnancy or talking therapy if parents are struggling at any point.’
Allow yourself to be open and honest about these emotions to those closest to you.
🌈 Practise gratitude
This may not work for everyone, but Joanne found it really helped her. ‘I can only speak for my own journey, but while we were going through those traumatic times, I find it helpful to practise gratitude,’ she says. You can do this by writing a daily gratitude list of all the things you feel especially grateful for that day. It can be as simple as nice weather or a good cup of tea, to good news about your pregnancy progression.
🌈 Get psychological support
‘It is important to realise that some (but not all) parents may need some counselling and support during the rainbow pregnancy and they should be supported to seek this if required,’ says Professor Akolekar.
🌈 Attend courses or classes
‘Many parents find that undertaking antenatal classes or a hypnobirthing course to increase their knowledge and understanding of pregnancy and birth helpful, and many classes use breathing and relaxation techniques that can be useful in reducing anxiety,’ says Dr Rayner.
🌈 Seek connection
‘Connection is also so important, so form a WhatsApp group with the NCT mums and be a virtual supportive bubble for one another,’ says Joanne.
Rainbow baby parenting advice
When you bring your rainbow baby into the world, parenthood might be a little different to those who haven’t experienced the previous loss that you have.
You might find yourself still feeling worried about your newborn, or more protective of your child as they age than you thought you might be. ‘I am a real mother bear,’ says Joanne. ‘I want to wrap him in cotton wool!’
Here are some tips for managing this as you journey into parenthood:
✅ Make space for both grief and joy: Happiness and sadness are two emotions that aren’t mutually exclusive: they can and do co-exist. ‘It is important at times to reflect that as you are moving on with the birth of a rainbow baby, you are not doing so at the cost of forgetting the previous pregnancy loss,’ explains Professor Akolekar. ‘You are just creating memories to sit alongside the memories of the previous pregnancy.’
Happiness and sadness aren’t mutually exclusive: they can and do co-exist.
✅ Speak to others: Talking to other parents who are going through the same thing as you can be incredibly helpful. Sophie King recommends Tommy’s Parenting After Loss group on Facebook. ‘Grappling with these issues can feel very lonely, but networks like these can help families connect and cope,’ she says.
✅ Be kind to yourself: If, as a new parent you are feeling ‘anxious or protective, remember that you need attention too, so eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting outside and resting when able are important aspects of self-care,’ advises Dr Rayner.
✅ Ask for help: ‘Talk to someone you’re close to, or release emotions into a journal, but don’t keep things in – asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, so reach out for support if you need it,’ says King.
*Name has been changed