A mother is a biological and/or social female parent of an offspring. In the case of a mammal such as a human, the biological mother gestates a fertilized ovum, which is called first an embryo, and then a fetus. This gestation occurs in the mother's uterus 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 in a process called lactation to feed the child; often the mother's breast milk is the child's sole nourishment for the first year or more of the child's life.
The title mother is often given to a woman other than the biological parent, if it is she who fulfills the social role. This is most commonly either an adoptive mother or a stepmother (the biologically unrelated wife of a child's father). Also, in both African-American and lesbian cultures non-biological othermothers exist. 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). A healthy connection between a mother and a child form a secure base, from which the child may later venture forth into the world.
Mothers have historically fulfilled the primary role in the raising of children, but since the late 20th century, the role of the father in child care has been given greater prominence in most Western countries.
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.
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:
In many other languages, similar pronunciations apply: