How do Kangaroos Give Birth? (Facts and Video!)

Many years ago, kangaroos were thought to be born in the pouch. But for several decades it has been known that kangaroos climb independently into their mother's pouch only after birth. But how do kangaroos give birth?

Kangaroos give birth to a joey by moving into the birth position and intensifying cleaning of the pouch and belly area until the newborn pops out of the birth canal. The newborn must then climb independently into the pouch where it attaches to the teat. Despite being blind at birth and without fur, the newborn is able to survive and thrive. At birth, it measures only 2.5 cm (1 in) tall and weighs just 1 g (0.03 oz).

a joey (red kangaroo)
A joey (red kangaroo). Source: Fiver, the psychic, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Birth preparations

Giving birth to a baby kangaroo does not happen unprepared. What happens before the birth of a kangaroo?

Birth preparations start a few hours before giving birth to a young. An imminent birth is especially recognizable by the constant grooming. The kangaroo cleans the pouch and the area around the opening of the birth canal.

The pouch must be clean because the newborn needs a protected but also clean environment in the first months of its life. It should not get sick. This article shows how kangaroos clean the pouch. Did you know that kangaroos lick the pouch until it is clean?

Shortly before birth, the licking of the pouch as well as the licking around the area of the birth canal becomes more intense.

A few minutes before the actual birth, the kangaroo takes the birth position. If possible, the animal rests its back against a tree, sitting upright on its tail and leaning back slightly.

The birth of a kangaroo

The birth itself happens very fast and lasts only a few seconds.

This video shows how a kangaroo gives birth:

What happens at birth and how is a kangaroo born?

In the birth position, the newborn pops out of the mother's birth canal which is located on the underside of her belly. After that, the newborn kangaroo must independently climb from the opening of the birth canal into the mother's pouch.

The newborn kangaroo is incredibly small and helpless. All marsupials, including kangaroos, are born after a very short gestation period. The young kangaroos have a body size of only 2 cm at birth and weigh less than 1 gram!

This is what a kangaroo looks like shortly after birth:

a newborn kangaroo joey attached to a teat in the pouch
Source: Geoff Shaw, CC BY-SA 3.0

After birth, the newborn kangaroo must quickly find its way into its mother's pouch.

Birth details:

After about a month of development, the fetus leaves the uterus and emerges from the mother's body wrapped by the amnion through the birth canal. The next step is to free the young from the amnion. This is often done by intense licking of the mother. Otherwise, the young animal can pierce the barrier with its better developed sharp claws of its front paws.

Initially, the fetus is still connected to the yolk sac. However, during climbing into the pouch, this connection is separated. Sometimes this connection is also separated by the mother.

The newborn's abilities are incredible:

The animal is blind after birth, without fur and the legs are developed only as small stumps. It has to rely on its sense of smell and the better developed inner ear for orientation. The animal uses only the better developed front paws with the sharp claws to climb into the pouch.

How long does it take for the newborn to be in the pouch?

The young animal needs about 1.5 - 4 minutes to get from the birth canal into the pouch. The role of the mother is largely passive. Most newborns successfully make the way into the pouch.

The following picture shows the birth canal and the opening of the pouch:

the birth canal and pouch opening of a kangaroo
After birth a joey must climb from the birth canal to the pouch opening

In the meantime the mother must clearn its fur and opening of the birth canal. However, the mother does not lick the path to the pouch. Instead, she licks after the newborn to remove all traces.

Even after the baby kangaroo has reached the pouch, the mother remains in the birthing position and continues to clean the fur. After birth, fluid may continue to leak from the birth canal for some time.

The first months of life in the pouch

Most of the physical development takes place in the mother's pouch after birth. In the pouch, the animal grows from a birth weight of about 1 gram to an animal with about 4 kg when it finally leaves the pouch. This article describes how long the young of different kangaroo species stay in the pouch.

Pinkie, about 5 months old. Source: By Glen Fergus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The fur only starts to grow a few weeks before the joey leaves the pouch for the first time. This is usually when the joey is between 6 - 7 months old. Until then, Joeys are also called "pinkies".

The young kangaroos are dependent on the mother for almost two years. However, they leave the pouch much earlier to make room for a new baby kangaroo.