Losing a baby can have profound emotional impacts. One way that parents process their grief is by naming and categorizing their experiences. The loss community has come up with various ways to describe the unique types of losses they've experienced, including familiar terms like "rainbow baby" or "angel baby." One lesser known, but meaningful term is "sunshine baby," which describes a baby born before a pregnancy loss.
What Is a Sunshine Baby?
Sunshine babies refer to babies born before a loss, including miscarriages, stillbirths, or any loss in early infancy. "A sunshine baby is a baby you had before having any knowledge about losses, challenges to conceive, or any idea about the fact that once pregnant, that pregnancy could turn into a loss," describes Maria Costantini-Ferrando, MD, Ph.D., clinical director and reproductive endocrinologist with Reproductive Medicine Associates.
Sunshine Baby Meaning and Significance
It's likely that the term sunshine baby came to be because of the fact that parents who've experienced a loss may see the children birthed before the loss a little differently now. Sunshine itself is a symbol of optimism and vitality. It also may represent the calm before the storm—i.e., the peace you experienced in your life that was disrupted by the pain of your loss.
Although it's common to feel guilt over the fact that your sunshine baby is here with you and the child or unborn baby you lost is not, for the most part sunshine babies represent hope for parents.
"A term like sunshine baby is often used as a beacon of hope," says Kiana Shelton, licensed clinical social worker and women's health expert with Mindpath Health. "The term can be a reminder of joy and of what one's body has done, as well as serving hope of what could happen again."
Sunshine Baby vs. Rainbow Baby—What's the Difference?
Most people are more familiar with the term "rainbow baby" than "sunshine baby," but in a way, they are opposites. Rainbow baby refer to babies who were born after any kind of pregnancy loss, including miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancies, blighted ovums, molar pregnancies, and infant losses. On the other hand, sunshine babies refer to babies born before a similar pregnancy loss.
Other Terms Dealing With Loss to Know
Rainbow babies and sunshine babies aren't the only terms used to describe different kinds of losses. Here's a guide to the most commonly used terms:
Rainbow baby: Baby born after any type of loss
Sunshine baby: The living child born before a pregnancy loss
Angel baby: A baby lost during pregnancy, childbirth, or after pregnancy
Born sleeping: Used to describe a stillborn baby
Guardian angel/sunset baby: A twin lost during pregnancy
Sunrise baby: The twin who survives, if one twin is lost during pregnancy
Pot of gold baby: Any other babies born after a rainbow baby
How You Might Feel
It's typical to have many different feelings about your sunshine baby. Most will likely be positive, but it's common to have complicated feelings as well. "People may have a range of feelings about their sunshine babies, including hope, guilt, resentment, and disappointment that they don't have a sibling yet," says Dr. Costantini-Ferrando. You may experience all of the above at once as well. That's normal too.
Guilt is one of the most difficult feelings that may arise. It's common to feel guilty about how sad you feel about your loss, given the fact that you have a healthy child (your sunshine baby). You may feel that you don't have a right to complain right now, Dr. Costantini-Ferrando says. But it's really OK. "Wishing for another child does not take away from or minimize the joy of already having one, it simply adds to it," she assures.
Tips From Experts to Cope With Loss
Coping with loss can be intense, and it may feel that there isn't a path forward. But rest assured: there are things you can do to get through this challenging time. Our experts offered their top tips.
Accept your feelings
"The best way to navigate this is to remind yourself that you are a human being and that you are entitled to experience whatever emotion you have," Dr. Costantini-Ferrando describes. There's no right or wrong way to feel when it comes to loss. "It is important to engage in self-care, be kind to yourself, [be] patient and forgiving, and ride the wave of emotions," she says. Many people try to avoid the uncomfortable feelings, such as guilt or sadness, but acknowledging them is the best way to let them go, Dr. Costantini-Ferrando adds.
Talk about what your vision of pregnancy was
It can be therapeutic to share what you had hoped for in your pregnancy. "When I work with clients, we often uncover that there were visions about what pregnancy or life as a parent would be like that were never said out loud," says Shelton. While it's true that sharing these feelings can be painful, it can be helpful to share them, as a way to release them. Unpacking these feelings also helps normalize them. There is nothing wrong with you if you still think about what your vision of your pregnancy was, Shelton assures.
Understand that grief isn't linear
Many people think that grief is linear: that you feel bad and then you gradually feel better. But it doesn't usually work that way. You'll have good days and bad days, and you should expect some bumps in the road, says Dr. Costantini-Ferrando. You may also find that not everyone understands what your particular grieving process looks like. "Know that people may unintentionally say hurtful things and/or give unsolicited advice," Dr. Costantini-Ferrando remarks. "Try not to let that get to you."
Seek professional support
You don't have to go through this alone. Seek out a therapist or counselor who specializes in grieving after pregnancy loss. You can access therapists with different specialties by searching websites like Psychology Today or The American Psychological Association. "There is nothing wrong with getting a mental health tune up," Sheldon advises. "Taking time to have a safe space to process thoughts may allow you the opportunity to move through emotions and struggles at a faster pace."
Set aside special time with your sunshine baby
Lastly, don't forget to set aside time to be with your sunshine baby. It can be healing to celebrate life together and embrace the child who is here with you, Dr. Costantini-Ferrando suggests. You can include your lost baby in these activities. "Incorporate memorializing the loss of their sibling in creative ways like building a garden, creating a piece of art, or writing a story," she recommends.