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A mother is the natural or social female parent of an offspring. In the case of a mammal such as a human, the mother gestates her child, which is called first an embryo, and then a fetus. This gestation occurs in the mother's womb from conception until the fetus is sufficiently developed to be born. The mother then goes into labor and gives birth. Once the child is born, the mother produces milk, a process called lactation, to feed the child.
Mothers typically fulfill the primary role in the raising of children. The title mother is often given to a woman other than biological parent, if it is she who fulfills this role. This is most commonly either an adoptive mother or a stepmother (the biologically unrelated wife of a child's father). 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 mother (who carries the pregnancy), and in theory neither might be the social mother (the one who brings up the child).
Synonyms and translations
Familiar or colloquial terms for mother in English are:
- mum or mummy, usual in the UK], Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Canada;
- mom or mommy, in North America (especially the U.S.), and in the Midland areas of England; especially Birmingham and the Black Country. Mommy is considered baby talk. Most adults in these regions switch to the term mom as they approach the teen years.
- mam or mammy, North Wales, the South Wales valleys, Ireland and Northern England;
- mama and ma, in parts of the middle east, Latin America, other Spanish-speaking cultures and The Netherlands. Mama is often used in rural areas of the midwest and south eastern regions of the US. Ma is a common term in various parts of the US including the north east.
In many other languages, similar pronunciations apply; maman in French, or mamma in Italian, or mamãe in Portuguese. Mama, borrowed from the English, is in common use in Japan. In many south Asian cultures, and the middle east the mother is known as amma or oma or ammi or "ummi", or variations thereof. The "M" sound seems to be near universal to the word mother in many different languages; this is thought to be related to one of the first sounds an infant learns to control, the smacking of its lips together as it comes off the breast. (See breastfeeding.) Many times these terms denote affection or a maternal role in a child's life.
A technical term for a pregnant woman is "gravida." However, this term is rarely used in common speech.
Mother's Day is a holiday honoring mothers, celebrated on various days in many places around the world. Mothers often receive gifts on this day.
The experience of motherhood varies greatly depending upon location. The organization Save the Children has ranked the countries of the world, and found that Scandinavian countries are the best places to be a mother, whereas countries in sub-Saharan Africa are the worst. A mother in the bottom 10 countries is over 750 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a mother in the top 10 countries, and a mother in the bottom 10 countries is 28 times more likely to see her child die before reaching his or her first birthday.
Married mothers and other mothers
Most mothers are married, but some are single. The reasons people marry vary widely, but may include a desire for legal, social, and economic stability. In many societies, marriage is viewed as an optimal arrangement for creating a family unit, procreating, and nurturing children. Marriage may also be a means to legitimize or channel sexual relations, as well as to publicly declare love.
As of the year 2000 in the United States, about 69% of children aged 4-35 months had married mothers. 22% of children in that age group had mothers who had never been married, and about 9% of children in that age group had mothers who had been divorced or separated.
- Adolescent mothers
- Animal maternal behavior
- Expectant mothers
- Maternal deprivation
- Maternal drive
- Maternal sensitivity
- Mother absence
- Mother child communication
- Mother child relations
- Refrigerator mothers
- Schizophrenia and mothering
- Schizophrenogenic mothers
- Sex roles
- Single mothers
- Unwed mothers
- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language ("1. A woman who conceives, gives birth to, or raises and nurtures a child. 2. A female parent of an animal").
- Dictionaries often define the word "child" to include a prenatal element, e.g.:
Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary ("1. an unborn or recently born person");
American Heritage Dictionary ("b. an unborn infant; a fetus").
- Dictionaries and other reference books often use the word "mother" prenatally, e.g.:
MedicineNet.com (defining placenta as a "temporary organ joining the mother and fetus");
American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary (placenta permits "metabolic interchage between fetus and mother", and also defining quickening as "signs of fetal life felt by the mother");
Encyclopedia Britannica Concise ("nutrients and oxygen in the mother's blood pass across the placenta to the fetus");
On-Line Medical Dictionary, Department of Medical Oncology, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne ("movement of foetus in the womb perceived by the mother");
Medilexicon (defining quickening as "signs of life felt by the mother as a result of fetal movements");
Wordnet, Princeton University ("mother first feels the movements of the fetus");
Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary ("motion of a fetus in the uterus felt by the mother").
- Save the Children, State of the World's Mothers Report 2006.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Child and Adolescent Health: Selected U.S. National Research Findings.
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