As the end of pregnancy nears, moms-to-be are usually full of excitement and nerves about what's next, especially if it's their first baby. There are four defined stages of labor and birth that pregnant women can expect to go through, assuming they don't have a scheduled C-section. While the duration of each stage can vary among women, there is no differentiation from one woman to another in the overall process.
Even though the labor and birthing process is well-established, it's still not always easy to discern whether or not the body is actually in labor. Dr. Melissa Peskin, OB/GYN at Montefiore Health System, tells Romper that the most common thing to confuse moms-to-be are Braxton Hicks contractions. While many women don't feel them at all, Dr. Peskin says that these contractions can be uncomfortable and repetitive, but even if they are "bothersome enough to bring a patient into the evaluation unit, [and] the patient does not make any cervical change, then she is considered to be in false labor."
Another confusion women often experience is determining whether or not their water broke. Doula and childbirth educator Deena Blumenfield tells Romper that women often mistake "vaginal discharge or urine leakage [for] amniotic fluid (water breaking)." Actual amniotic fluid leakage is definitely cause for evaluation, but Blumenfield says women can skip an unnecessary evaluation by smelling the fluid, because amniotic fluid is odorless.
Once a patient is sure she's not experiencing a false alarm, things are pretty straightforward, biologically speaking. The labor and birth process is split up into four stages, with a few sub-phases. Every woman's body is prepared to naturally go through these stages, it's just a matter of how long her body takes to get from one stage to the next.