A mother is a biological and/or social female parent of an offspring.[1] Because of the complexity and differences of a mothers' social, cultural, and religious definitions and roles, it is challenging to define a mother to suit a universally accepted definition.

For lessons on the topic of Motherhood, follow this link.

Biological mother

In the case of a mammal such as a human, the biological mother gestates a fertilized ovum. As a viable fertilised ovum or "embryo" ideally develops into a fetus. Gestation occurs in the mother's uterus from conception until (under ideal circumstances, barring illness or defect) the fetus is sufficiently developed to be born. The mother experiences labor and gives birth. Once the child is born, the mother produces milk via the lactation process. The mother's breast milk is the source of anti-bodies for the infant's immune system and commonly the sole source of nutrition for the first year or more of the child's life.[2][3][4]

Surrogate mother

A surrogate mother is, commonly, a woman who bears the embryo to term for a couple biologically unable to have children. Upon the child’s birth, the surrogate mother surrenders all her rights and responsibilities to the child[5] with sole intention of surrendering the infant to at least one of the biological parents. [6][7]


The term mother is often given to a woman other than the biological parent, especially if she who fulfills the main social role in raising the child. This is commonly either an adoptive mother or a stepmother (the biologically unrelated wife of a child's father). In lesbian cultures, a non-biological mother, or so-called "othermother" exists.

Currently, with advances in reproductive technologies, the function of biological motherhood can be split between the genetic mother (who provides the ovum) and the gestational (commonly known as a surrogate) mother (who carries the pregnancy), and it is also possible neither will serve as the social mother (the one who rears the child). A healthy connection between a mother and a child form a secure base, from which the child may later venture forth into the world.[8]

Social role

Mothers have historically fulfilled the primary role in raising children, but since the late 20th century, the role of the father in child care has been given greater prominence and social acceptance in some Western countries.[9][10]

The social role and experience of motherhood varies greatly depending upon location. The organization Save the Children has (controversially) ranked the countries of the world, and found that Scandinavian countries are the safest places to give birth, whereas countries in sub-Saharan Africa are the least safest to give birth[11]. This study argues a mother in the bottom ten ranked countries is over 750 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a mother in the top ten ranked countries, and a mother in the bottom ten ranked countries is 28 times more likely to see her child die before reaching their first birthday.

Mothers are more likely than fathers to encourage assimilative and communion-enhancing patterns in their children.[12] Mothers are more likely than fathers to acknowledge their children's contributions in conversation.[13][14][15][16] The way mothers speak to their children is better suited to support very young children in their efforts to understand speech (in context of the reference English) than fathers.[13]

Since the 1970s, in vitro fertilization has made pregnancy possible at ages well beyond "natural" limits, generating ethical controversy and forcing significant changes in the social meaning of motherhood.[17][18] This is, however a position highly biased by Western world locality: outside the Western world, in-vitro fertilization has far less prominence, importance or currency compared to primary, basic healthcare, womens' basic health, reducing infant mortality and the prevention of life-threatening diseases such as polio, typhus and malaria.

US Motherhood Statistics

Assorted and non-inclusive statistics on motherhood from the U.S. Census Bureau.[19]

  • 82.5 million women are mothers of all ages in the United States.
  • 68% of women aged 15 to 44 are mothers in Mississippi, considered high in comparison to a national average for same age group of 56%.
  • 82% of women aged 40 to 44 years old are mothers.
  • 4.0 million women give birth annually, approximately 425,000 were teenage mothers (aged 15 to 19) and more than 100,000 were aged 40 or over.
  • 25.1 years of age is the national average age of women for their first births, a record high an increase of 4 years since 1970.
  • 40% of annual births are the mother’s first. Another 32 percent are the second-born; 17 percent, third; and 11 percent, fourth or more.
  • 35,000 of births in 2002 were attended by physicians, midwives or others outside a hospital facility.
  • 55% of mothers with infant children in 2002 were employed, down from the record 59 percent in 1998, the first significant decline since the Census Bureau began collating such data in 1976. In 1976, 31% of mothers with infants were employed.
  • 63% of employed women with infant children are college-educated.
  • 72% of employed women, between ages 15 and 44 are mothers without infants.
  • 687,000 child day-care centers operated in the USA in 2002. Of these, 69,000 centers employed close to 750,000 workers and another 618,000 were self-employed persons or companies without paid employees. Many mothers use such centers to juggle the demands of motherhood and career.


Nearly all world religions define tasks or roles for mothers through either religious law or through the deification or glorification of mothers who served in substantial religious events. There are many examples of religious law relating to mothers and women. Major world religions which have specific religious law or scriptural canon regarding mothers include: Christians,[20] Jews,[21] and Muslims.[22] Some examples of glorification or deification include the Madonna or Blessed Virgin Mother Mary for Christians, the Hindu Mother Goddess, or Demeter of ancient Greek pre-Christian belief. In Islam, the Q'uran dictates the mother occupying an importance and position three times superior to that of the father. However, while the mother is considered the most important member of the family, she is not the head of the family.

Synonyms and translations

The proverbial "first word" of an infant often sounds like "ma" or "mama". This strong association of that sound with "mother" has persisted in nearly every language on earth, countering the natural localization of language.

Familiar or colloquial terms for mother in English are:

  • mom or mommy, in most of North America (especially the U.S.).
  • mum or mummy, is used in the UK, Canada, Netherlands, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand
  • Ma, Mam or Mammy is used in Ireland and sometimes in the UK and the US.
  • Maa, Amma, Mata is used in India and sometimes in neighboring countries, originating from the Sanskrit matrika and mata
  • "mama" is used in many countries, but is considered a Spanish form of "mother"

The Hindu mother goddess Parvati feeding her son, the elephant-headed wisdom god Ganesha

In many other languages, similar pronunciations apply:

  • mama in Polish and Slovak
  • māma (妈妈/媽媽) in Chinese and Japanese
  • máma in Czech
  • maman in French and Persian
  • ma, mama or Ibu in Indonesian language
  • mamma in Italian and Icelandic
  • mãe in Portuguese
  • Ami in Punjabi
  • mama in Swahili
  • eema (אמא) in Hebrew
  • má or mẹ in Vietnamese
  • mam in Welsh
  • eomma (엄마, pronounced [ʌmma]) in Korean
  • In many south Asian cultures and the Middle East the mother is known as amma or oma or ammi or "ummi", or variations thereof. Many times these terms denote affection or a maternal role in a child's life.



  • 1. a. With possessive adjective: a title of respect for a mother. Obs.
b. The state, condition, or fact of being a mother. Cf. MOTHERHEAD n. 1.
c. motherhood and apple-pie n. (in allusive and similative use) something regarded as so unquestionably good as to be beyond criticism; spec. (usually ironic or with pejorative connotations) something exemplifying traditionally wholesome American values. In later use, freq. attrib. or as adj.: representing irrefutable and unquestionable goodness and integrity.
  • 2. Motherly feeling, love, or care. Cf. MOTHERHEAD n. 2. Now rare.
  • 3. Mothers collectively.
  • 4. Anthropol. A clan constituted by kinship through the mother. Obs.


(attrib.). Chiefly N. Amer. Universally favoured or supported; uncontroversial, bland, anodyne. Esp. in motherhood issue, motherhood statement. Cf. motherhood and apple-pie n. at sense A. 1d.


  • "The Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality", By Randy Thornhill, Steven W. Gangestad [23]
  • "Motherhood - How should we care for our children?", By Anne Manne[24]
  • "Mother nature: maternal instincts and how they shape the human species", By Sarah Blaffer Hrdy [25]


  7. Surrogate motherhood By Larry Ogalthorpe Gostin
  8. Diane S. Feinberg, M.Ed. The Importance of Mother and Child Attachment
  9. "In most Western countries the family model of a sole male breadwinner is in full retreat." Accessed 19 September 2007.
  10. Why Are Fathers Important? Interview with Dr. Ross Parke, professor of psychology at the University of California at Riverside, author of Fatherhood (1966) and co-author of Throwaway Dads (1999). Accessed 19 September 2007.
  11. Save the Children, State of the World's Mothers Report 2006.
  12. Gendered differences in parents' encouragement of sibling interaction: implications for the construction of a personal premise system
  13. Fathers' speech to their children: perfect pitch or tin ear?
  14. Hladik, E., & Edwards, H. (1984). A comparison of mother-father speech in the naturalistic home environment. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 13, 321-332.
  15. Leaper, C., Anderson, K., & Sanders, P. (1998). Moderators of gender effects on parents' talk to their children: A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 34, 3-27.
  16. Mannle, S., & Tomasello, M. (1987). Fathers, siblings, and the bridge hypothesis. In K.E. Nelson & A. vanKleeck (Eds.), Children's language, Vol. 6, (pp. 23-42). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  17. Motherhood: Is It Ever Too Late?, July 15, 2009
  18. Getting Pregnant After 50: Risks, Rewards July 17, 2009
  20. "What The Bible Says About Mother". Retrieved 2008-11-24.
  21. Katz, Lisa. "Religious Obligations of Jewish women". Retrieved 2008-11-24.
  22. ‘Ali Al-Hashimi, Muhammad. The Ideal Muslimah: The True Islâmic Personality of the Muslim Woman as Defined in the Qur’ân and Sunnah. Retrieved 2008-11-24.
  23. "The Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality", By Randy Thornhill, Steven W. Gangestad
  24. "Motherhood - How should we care for our children?", By Anne Manne
  25. "Mother nature: maternal instincts and how they shape the human species", By Sarah Blaffer Hrdy