Why “kangaroo”?

Why do we call it “KANGAROO” Mother Care?

When we first started talking about KANGAROO Mother Care in Zimbabwe in 1988 I had to draw a kangaroo to explain to people there what one looked like.

Luckily I had read Winnie the Pooh – so our “kangaroo” logo is modelled on Kanga !

Dr Rey and Martinez, working in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, were probably the first to use the term “kangaroo” in the context of caring for premature babies, around 1978 or 1979. They identified several similarities.

When it is born, the kangaroo baby has no hair and is called a PINKY. It is the size of a peanut, yet must crawl into the pouch by itself. (This is a hand-reared orphan, a few months old).

kangaroo embryo

Baby Kangaroos are born very immature – as are human “premature” babies. It is in fact extremely premature, very tiny, about the size of a peanut . When it is born, the kangaroo baby has no hair and is called a PINKY. This means that the pink skin can be in direct contact with the inside of the pouch, which is mostly skin with very few hairs. Hence : skin-to-skin contact.

orphan pinky
pinky in pouch They smell their way from the birth canal using their front claws to crawl all the way to the mothers pouch. They latch onto the nipple and do not let go. The nipple squirts milk into them!
In the pouch they are warm, safe and protected, and fed as they continue their gestation.
Once inside the pouch, the kangaroo baby latches on to a nipple, where it then remains attached, feeding on mother’s milk, non-stop, for months. (This pinky is being fed from a teat with the exact shape of a real one.) orphan pinky feeds

The pouch can close tightly to protect the baby. I asked the ranger to open the pouch so I could take a photo: he tried, but mother straight away closed it tight, notice its legs protruding!

The baby will come out of the pouch for the first time when it is about a quarter of the mothers weight!!

pouch closed
safe joey The joey can continue breastfeeding even when it is too big to fit in the pouch.

Mother kangaroo is a mammal (just like us), and feeds its baby milk like we do (or like we should!) from a nipple inside its pouch.

The pouch covers the baby with skin, and this not only protects the very immature baby, but also provides it with a total environment which is essential for development.

This includes warmth, food, comfort, stimulation, protection.

The baby is CARRIED for all this time, without interruption

calm doe and joey
joey feeding from outside joey only tail out

When frightened, the joey does a forward somersault into mothers pouch. (Notice the tip of the tail!)

SO: the kangaroo has —


KANGAROO MOTHER CARE does the same for the HUMAN premature!

skin-to-skin 800g SKIN-TO-SKIN CONTACT pinky in pouch
prem breastfeeding BREAST-FEEDING joey feeding from outside
protection in KMC PROTECTION safe joey

Most mammals have young which are born able to fend for themselves. The human baby is extremely immature compared to such mammals, which is also the case for kangaroos, and other “marsupials”.
These similarities to marsupial care is why many call it Kangaroo Care.

But it is the MOTHER which is essential for the baby! For the human immature baby, the skin-to-skin contact on the mother’s chest provides the essentials: warmth, breast milk, comfort, stimulation and protection.

And so we prefer to call it KANGAROO MOTHER CARE or KMC.

The mother kangaroo can have several babies in the pouch at the same time, at different stages of development. She may have a pinkie and a tiny joey both getting milk for different gestational age. She may also have a bigger joey who starting to eat other food but is only coming to drink sometimes, or hopping back inside in case of danger.


This also works just fine for human infants!

tandem feeding