Parenting after loss
This information is for any new parent who has experienced baby loss. Whatever your circumstances, anything you are feeling about becoming a parent after your previous experience is completely natural and justified.
If you have stumbled across this page and you have not had a baby after a previous loss, we’re here to support you, whatever stage you may be at in your journey. Please do not be afraid to reach out and get support.
What is a rainbow baby?
The symbol of the rainbow has been used by members of the baby loss community for many years now. A rainbow baby is a baby born after miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. Meet some of our rainbow babies born with the help of the wonderful work of our clinicians and researchers.
Some parents feel the rainbow symbol over-simplifies their experience because the arrival of a rainbow baby doesn’t take away the grief they feel about their loss. But for many parents, rainbows symbolise hope and light after a dark time. There’s no pressure on you to feel any certain way about this.
It's important to make space for conflicting emotions
Parenting after loss can bring up so many complex emotions. You’re probably celebrating the arrival of your new baby but still grieving for the loss of their sibling.
It’s important to acknowledge and accept these feelings. Don’t put pressure on yourself to feel that having another baby will resolve or put an end to the pain of a previous loss.
It’s okay to feel happiness and sadness at the same time. Life may be moving on, but this doesn’t mean you have to let go of a previous loss. It’s important to remember that healing doesn’t mean forgetting.
“We are still bereaved parents, at the end of the day. I felt disbelief when my son was born – and that disbelief has stayed with me.”
Some parents have a profound sense of guilt. This may be because they feel so much love for their new baby that they have somehow abandoned the baby they lost. Some parents feel it because they may not have their new baby if their previous baby had survived.
Some parents have told us that continuing to do things to honour the baby they lost can help them manage their feelings. There is no right way to do this. But some parents decide to mark anniversaries, such as their baby’s due date or birth date by lighting a candle, holding a small, family remembrance service or just talking about their baby.
Ignore the pressure to enjoy every moment
You may feel pressure to enjoy everything about becoming a parent, especially if you’ve had a long journey to get here. But it’s important to remember that you are allowed to have bad days without feeling guilty.
"After three missed miscarriages, months of testing and several surgeries to help achieve my successful pregnancy, looking back when my baby was delivered safely, I was numb. I cry at one born every minute on tv, yet I didn't shed a tear when my baby was born. I was so afraid of something going wrong"
Looking after a baby is hard work for any parent. If you gave birth, your body is still in recovery and you’re probably feeling sore and hormonal. You’ll also be learning how to feed your baby and coping with sleepless nights.
Try to be easy on yourself. Feeling a little stressed or overwhelmed does not mean that you are not grateful for your baby. You are entitled to your ups and downs just like every other new parent.
Coping with difficult questions
Many new parents have told us about difficult conversations they’ve had or questions from people who don’t know about their previous losses. For example, they may ask if this is your first baby or if you have any other children.
“I don’t see myself as a mother of one, I’m a mother of three – two in heaven and one on earth. That brings me healing and it helps me deal with what I went through.”
These types of questions can be quite common for new parents, so it may help to think about how you want to want to handle this if it happens. Some parents decide to talk about their previous losses, others don’t. Both options are personal and perfectly okay.
If you do decide to talk about your previous loss, it may help to prepare yourself for people’s reactions. Many will be empathetic or understanding. But sometimes, even with the best intentions, people’s reactions may be clumsy or disappointing.
Try not to feel guilty if you decide not to mention the baby or babies you have lost. This does not mean that you are denying their memory.
In these circumstances, do or say whatever you want to protect yourself and your family.
Bonding with your baby
Some parents have difficulties bonding with their baby. Many parents may not allow themselves to believe their baby would survive during pregnancy, which can make bonding challenging.
Any difficulties bonding with your baby after their birth can be difficult to cope with, especially as these feelings are often unexpected. After all, this is the healthy baby that you’ve been waiting for. Be kind to yourself. Not every parent feels a bond with their baby straight away. Bonding can be a gradual process, and it may take you weeks or even months to feel close to your baby. Try our ideas for bonding with your baby.
“It took me a few months to really believe that he was here and that he was going to stay,” she says. "The issues around bonding carried on for a while after he was born, because I was just too scared to get attached to him.”
Shema. Read her full story
Sometimes, if you’re finding it difficult to bond with your baby, feel sad, hopeless or guilty all the time for weeks or months after you’ve had a baby, it could be a sign of postnatal depression. This can be treated with the right care and support.
Talk to your health visitor or GP how you feel. They won’t judge you. Any parent can experience mental health problems after giving birth. If you have lost a baby before, this can also increase your chances of developing problems such as postnatal anxiety and postnatal depression. Find out more about your mental health after having a baby.
Coping with anxiety
Some parents have told us that they expected their anxieties to ease after their baby was born, but they still struggled with these feelings. Even though their baby has arrived happy and healthy, it felt difficult to accept that everything was okay.
Every new parent has anxious thoughts or worries now and again. It’s natural to worry that something may happen to the baby or that you will do something wrong. But these feelings usually get less intense in time.
However, some parents have postnatal anxiety and this includes dads and partners. This is different because it tends to be more distressing and persistent (doesn’t go away).
“The anxiety after birth is very real and consuming. I go through this every day with my son. Even though he’s 16 months old, I still check that he’s breathing every night lying next to me and battle with the thoughts in my head that he will get taken away from me.”
Some new parents may develop other types of anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Others may develop obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours because of their worries or anxieties. They may also have intrusive thoughts of accidental or intentional harm coming to the baby. This is known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Tell your health visitor or GP if you are finding it difficult to cope. It can be hard for some people to talk about this but try to remember that your healthcare professionals won’t judge you. They will focus on helping you find the right treatment and support so you can take care of yourself and your baby.
Talk to people about how you feel
It’s important to keep expressing how you feel. It may be enough to do this privately, for example you could keep a diary or journal. You could also talk to someone you trust, such as a partner, friend family member or health visitor. Try to be completely open and honest about how you feel.
Talking to other parents who are going through the same thing as you can be incredibly helpful. Visit the Tommy’s Parenting After Loss group on Facebook.
You could also try counselling. If you live in England, your GP or midwife or health visitor can refer you for counselling. Or you can refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT). Self-referral is not available in every part of the UK, but your GP or health visitor will be able to tell you what’s available where you live. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy can help you access a private therapist.
You can talk to a Tommy’s midwife for free on 0800 0147 800 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm) or email [email protected] Our midwives are also trained in bereavement support and will be able to talk to you about what you're going through.