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Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

A mother (or mum/mom) is a woman who has raised a child, given birth to a child, and/or supplied the ovum that united with a sperm which grew into a child.[1][2][3][4] Because of the complexity and differences of a mother's social, cultural, and religious definitions and roles, it is challenging to specify a universally acceptable definition for the term. The male equivalent is a father.


  • 1 Etymology
  • 2 Biological mother
  • 3 Non-biological mother
    • 3.1 Surrogate mother
  • 4 Lesbian motherhood
  • 5 Social role
  • 6 Heath and safety issues
  • 7 US motherhood statistics
  • 8 Religious
  • 9 Mother-offspring conflict
  • 10 Mothers in art
  • 11 Synonyms and translations
  • 12 Famous motherhood figures
  • 13 See also
  • 14 References
  • 15 Further reading


From Middle English moder, From Latin māter (“mother”), partly via late-Middle English matere. from Old English mōdor, from Proto-Germanic *mōdēr (cf. East Frisian muur, Dutch moeder, German Mutter), from Proto-Indo-European *méh₂tēr (cf. Irish máthair, Tocharian A mācar, B mācer, Lithuanian mótė). Cognates include Common Slavic *mati (thence Russian мать (mat’)), Persian مادر (madar), Mycenaean Greek 𐀔𐀳𐀩 (ma-te-re), and Sanskrit मातृ (mātṛ).

Biological mother

In the case of a mammal such as a human, a pregnant woman gestates a fertilized ovum. A fetus develops from the viable fertilized ovum or "embryo." Gestation occurs in the woman's uterus from conception until the fetus (assuming it is carried to term) is sufficiently developed to be born. The woman experiences labor and gives birth. Usually, once the baby 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.[5][6][7]

Non-biological mother

Monumento a la Madre in Mexico City. The inscription translates as "To her who loves us before she meets us"

Mother can often apply to a woman other than the biological parent, especially if she 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). The term "othermother" or "other mother" is also used in some contexts for women who provide care for a child not biologically their own in addition to the child's primary mother.

Adoption, in various forms, has been practiced throughout history.[8] Modern systems of adoption, arising in the 20th century, tend to be governed by comprehensive statutes and regulations. In recent decades, international adoptions have become more and more common.

Surrogate mother

A surrogate mother is, commonly, a woman who bears an embryo, that is from another woman's fertilized ovum, to term for a couple biologically unable to have children. Thus, she carries and gives birth to a child that is she not the biological mother of. Note that this is different from a woman who becomes pregnant via in vitro fertilization.

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).

Lesbian motherhood

The possibility for women in same-sex relationships to become mothers has increased over the past few decades thanks to new technology. Modern lesbian parenting originated with women who were in heterosexual relationships who later identified as lesbian as changing attitudes provided more acceptance for homosexuals. Another way for lesbians to become mothers is through adopting and/or foster parenting. There is also the option of self-insemination and clinically assisted donor insemination, forms of artificial insemination. As fertility technology has advanced, more lesbians have become mothers through in vitro fertilization.[9][10]

Social role

Sikkimese mother with child.

Historically, the role of women was confined mostly to being a mother and wife, with women being expected to dedicate most of their energy to these roles, and to spend most of their time taking care of the home. In many cultures, women received significant help in performing these tasks from older female relatives, such as mothers in law or their own mothers.[11]

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.[12][13] The 20th century also saw more and more women entering paid work.

The social role and experience of motherhood varies greatly depending upon location. Mothers are more likely than fathers to encourage assimilative and communion-enhancing patterns in their children.[14] Mothers are more likely than fathers to acknowledge their children's contributions in conversation.[15][16][17][18] 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.[15]

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.[19][20] 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, women's basic health, reducing infant mortality and the prevention of life-threatening diseases such as polio, typhus and malaria.

Traditionally, and still in most parts of the world today, a mother was expected to be a married woman, with birth outside of marriage carrying a strong social stigma. Historically, this stigma didn't only apply to the mother, but also to her child. This continues to be the case in many parts of the developing world today, but in many Western countries the situation has changed radically, with single motherhood being much more socially acceptable now. For more details on these subjects, see legitimacy (law) and single parent.

Heath and safety issues

Sub-Saharan African countries carry the highest risks in terms of maternal and infant mortality and health.

In 2006, the organization Save the Children has 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 safe to give birth.[21] 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.

The most recent data suggests that Italy, Sweden and Luxembourg are the safest countries in terms of maternal death and Afghanistan, Central African Republic and Malawi are the most dangerous.[22] [23]

Childbirth is an inherently dangerous and risky activity, subject to many complications. The "natural" mortality rate of childbirth—where nothing is done to avert maternal death—has been estimated as being 1500 deaths per 100,000 births.[24] Modern medicine has greatly alleviated the risk of childbirth. In modern Western countries the current maternal mortality rate is around 10 deaths per 100,000 births.[25]

US motherhood statistics

Assorted and non-inclusive statistics on motherhood from the US Census Bureau:[26]

  • 82.5 million women are mothers of all ages in the United States.
  • 68% of women in Mississippi aged 15–44 are mothers, considered high in comparison to a national average for same age group of 56%.
  • 82% of women aged 40–44 years old are mothers.
  • 4.0 million women give birth annually, approximately 425,000 were teenage mothers (aged 15–19) 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% are the second-born; 17%, third; and 11%, fourth or more.
  • 35,000 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% 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,[27] Jews,[28] and Muslims.[29] Some examples of honoring motherhood include the Madonna or Blessed Virgin Mother Mary for Catholics. Hindu Mother Goddess, or Demeter of ancient Greek pre-Christian belief was a mother.

Mother-offspring conflict

In early human history there have been many instances of mother-offspring conflicts. For example:

  • Amastris, queen of Heraclea, was drowned by her two sons in 284 BC.
  • Cleopatra III of Egypt was assassinated in 101 BC by order of her son, Ptolemy X, for her conspiring.
  • Ptolemy XI of Egypt had his wife, Berenice III, murdered shortly after their wedding in 80 BC. She was also his stepmother, or perhaps his mother.
  • In AD 59, the Roman Emperor Nero is said to have ordered the murder of his mother Agrippina the Younger, supposedly because she was conspiring against him.
  • Mary Ann Lamb, the mentally ill sister of essayist Charles Lamb, killed their invalid mother during an episode of mania in 1796.

In modern history here have also been cases of mother-offspring conflicts:

  • Kip Kinkel (1982- ), an Oregon boy who was convicted of killing both parents as well as killing two students at his school on May 20, 1998.
  • Dr. I. Kathleen Hagen, a prominent urologist, killed her mother and her father in August 2000 and was acquitted on the grounds of insanity.
  • Yukio Yamaji, a 16 year old living in Japan, killed his mother in 2000. After his release, he raped and murdered a woman and her sister in 2005. He was executed by hanging in 2009.
  • Dipendra of Nepal (1971–2001) reportedly massacred much of his family at a royal dinner on June 1, 2001, including his mother Queen Aiswarya, father, brother, and sister.
  • Erika di Nardo killed her mother and brother in 2001. See Novi Ligure Murder
  • Sarah Marie Johnson (1987- ), an Idaho girl who was convicted of killing both parents on the morning of 2 September 2003.

Mothers in art

Firmin Baes - Sweet dreams

Throughout history mothers with their children have often been the subject of artistic works, such as paintings, sculptures or writings.

Fourth century grave reliefs on the island of Rhodos depicted mothers with children.[30]

Paintings of mothers with their children have a long tradition in France. In the 18th century, these works embodied the Enlightenment's preoccupation with strong family bonds and the relation between mothers and children. [31]

At the end of the nineteenth century, Mary Cassatt was a painter well known for her portraits of mothers.

Many contemporary movies portray mothers.

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 and mommy are used in the United States, Canada, South Africa, Philippines, India and in the West Midlands region of the United Kingdom. [32]
  • Mum and mummy are used in the United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Ireland.
  • Ma, mam, and mammy are used in Netherlands, Ireland, the Northern areas of the United Kingdom, and Wales; it is also used in some areas of the United States.
The Hindu mother goddess Parvati feeding her son, the elephant-headed wisdom god Ganesha

In many other languages, similar pronunciations apply:

  • Maa, aai, amma, and mata are used in India
  • mamá, ma, and mami in Spanish language
  • mama in Polish, German, Russian and Slovak
  • māma (妈妈/媽媽) in Chinese
  • máma in Czech and in Ukrainian
  • maman in French and Persian
  • ma, mama in Indonesian
  • mamma in Italian, Icelandic, Latvian and Swedish
  • mamãe or mãe in Portuguese
  • mā̃ (ਮਾਂ) in Punjabi
  • mama in Swahili
  • em (אם) in Hebrew
  • ima (אמא) in Aramaic
  • 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, oma, ammi or "ummi", or variations thereof. Many times, these terms denote affection or a maternal role in a child's life.

Famous motherhood figures

Charity by Bouguereau 1878
  • Bachue
  • Bithiah
  • Demeter
  • Yashoda
  • Dewi Sri
  • Eve
  • Gaia
  • Isis
  • Jocasta
  • Juno
  • Kwan Yin
  • Mary
  • Parvati
  • Queen Maya
  • Sita
  • Venus

See also

  • Attachment parenting
  • Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Breastfeeding
  • Maternal bond
  • Jungian archetypes
  • Lactation
  • Matriarch
  • Matricide
  • Matrilocal residence
  • Mother goddess
  • Mother Goose
  • Mother insult
  • Mother ship
  • Mother's Day
  • Mothers rights
  • Nuclear family
  • Oedipus complex
  • Othermother
  • Parenting
  • Single-parent
  • The mother of all


  1. ^ "definition of mother from Oxford Dictionaries Online". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=bookitem&rft.btitle=definition+of+mother+from+Oxford+Dictionaries+Online&rft.atitle=Oxford+Dictionaries&rft.pub=Oxford+University+Press&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Foxforddictionaries.com%2Fdefinition%2Fmother%3Frskey%3DYplwRN%26result%3D1&rfr_id=info:sid/en.wikipedia.org:Mother"> 
  2. ^ "mother n. & v.". The Oxford American Dictionary of Current English. Oxford University Press. class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=bookitem&rft.btitle=mother+n.+%26+v.&rft.atitle=The+Oxford+American+Dictionary+of+Current+English&rft.pub=Oxford+University+Press&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.education.tas.gov.au%2Fviews%2FENTRY.html%3Fsubview%3DMain%26entry%3Dt21.e19987&rfr_id=info:sid/en.wikipedia.org:Mother"> 
  3. ^ "Define Mother at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.com. class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=bookitem&rft.btitle=Define+Mother+at+Dictionary.com&rft.atitle=&rft.pub=Dictionary.com&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fdictionary.reference.com%2Fbrowse%2Fmother&rfr_id=info:sid/en.wikipedia.org:Mother"> 
  4. ^ "Definition from". Allwords.com. 2007-04-04. class="reference-accessdate">. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  5. ^ "Dhushara.com". Dhushara.com. class="reference-accessdate">. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  6. ^ Growth and Development
  7. ^ Chapter 46 Animal Reproduction
  8. ^ Barbara Melosh, the American Way of Adoption page 10
  9. ^ "Lesbian parenting: issues, strengths and challenges". class="reference-accessdate">. Retrieved 2011-01-25. 
  10. ^ Mezey, Nancy J (2008). New Choices, New Families: How Lesbians Decide about Motherhood. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-9000-0. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "In most Western countries the family model of a sole male breadwinner is in full retreat." Accessed 19 September 2007.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Ann M. Berghout Austin1 and T.J. Braeger2 (1990-10-01). "Gendered differences in parents' encouragement of sibling interaction: implications for the construction of a personal premise system". Fla.sagepub.com. class="reference-accessdate">. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  15. ^ a b "Fathers' speech to their children: perfect pitch or tin ear?". Thefreelibrary.com. class="reference-accessdate">. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  16. ^ Hladik, E., & Edwards, H. (1984). A comparison of mother-father speech in the naturalistic home environment. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 13, 321–332.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Motherhood: Is It Ever Too Late?, July 15, 2009
  20. ^ Getting Pregnant After 50: Risks, Rewards July 17, 2009
  21. ^ Save the Children, State of the World's Mothers Report 2006.
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Van Lerberghe W, De Brouwere V. Of blind alleys and things that have worked: history’s lessons on reducing maternal mortality. In: De Brouwere V, Van Lerberghe W, eds. Safe motherhood strategies: a review of the evidence. Antwerp, ITG Press, 2001 (Studies in Health Services Organisation and Policy, 17:7–33). "Where nothing effective is done to avert maternal death, “natural” mortality is probably of the order of magnitude of 1,500/100,000."
  25. ^ ibid, p10
  26. ^ Census.gov[dead link]
  27. ^ "What The Bible Says About Mother". Mothers Day World. class="reference-accessdate">. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  28. ^ Katz, Lisa. "Religious Obligations of Jewish women". About.com. class="reference-accessdate">. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  29. ^ 'Ali Al-Hashimi, Muhammad. The Ideal Muslimah: The True Islâmic Personality of the Muslim Woman as Defined in the Qur'ân and Sunnah. Wisdom Enrichment Foundation, Inc.. class="reference-accessdate">. Retrieved 2008-11-24. [dead link]
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ Use of the word 'Mom' in West-Midlands, UK. Accessed: 25th May 2012

Further reading

  • Thornhill, Randy; Gangestad, Steven W.. The Evolutionary Biology of Human Female Sexuality. class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=book&rft.btitle=The+Evolutionary+Biology+of+Human+Female+Sexuality&rft.aulast=Thornhill&rft.aufirst=Randy&rft.au=Thornhill%2C%26%2332%3BRandy&rft.au=Gangestad%2C%26%2332%3BSteven+W.&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fbooks.google.com%2Fbooks%3Fid%3D5uVUwCE3Vm4C%26dq%3DThe%2BEvolutionary%2BBiology%2Bof%2BHuman%2BFemale%2BSexuality%26printsec%3Dfrontcover%26ct%3Dresult%23PPP13%2CM1&rfr_id=info:sid/en.wikipedia.org:Mother"> 
  • Manne, Anne. Motherhood – How should we care for our children?. class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=book&rft.btitle=Motherhood+%E2%80%93+How+should+we+care+for+our+children%3F&rft.aulast=Manne&rft.aufirst=Anne&rft.au=Manne%2C%26%2332%3BAnne&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fbooks.google.com%2Fbooks%3Fid%3DKHdpcmuXB_oC%26printsec%3Dfrontcover%26dq%3Dmotherhood&rfr_id=info:sid/en.wikipedia.org:Mother"> 
  • Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. Mother nature: maternal instincts and how they shape the human species. class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=book&rft.btitle=Mother+nature%3A+maternal+instincts+and+how+they+shape+the+human+species&rft.aulast=Hrdy&rft.aufirst=Sarah+Blaffer&rft.au=Hrdy%2C%26%2332%3BSarah+Blaffer&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fbooks.google.com%2Fbooks%3Fid%3DDcCOAAAAIAAJ%26q%3Dmotherhood%2Bbiology%26dq%3Dmotherhood%2Bbiology%26pgis%3D1&rfr_id=info:sid/en.wikipedia.org:Mother">