By Stephen M. Silverman And Simon Perry
Updated May 06, 2003 04:32 PM

Sixteen months after she lost a baby in an ectopic pregnancy, Sophie Wessex — the wife of Queen Elizabeth’s younger son, Prince Edward — has announced she is expecting a baby, reports PEOPLE’s London bureau.

Following weeks of rumors, the news was made in a statement from Buckingham Palace Tuesday morning. The statement reads, “Their Royal Highnesses The Earl and Countess of Wessex are very pleased to announce that The Countess of Wessex is expecting a baby in December. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh and members of both families are delighted with the news.”

In the light of her emergency the last time she was pregnant (Sophie, 38, was airlifted to a hospital and underwent a 2-1/2 hour operation to end a potentially life-threatening pregnancy), the mother-to-be has been advised by the Royal Family’s consultant obstetrician, Marcus Setchell, to cancel her engagements.

That began Tuesday, when Prince Edward, 39, undertook a day of engagements in the southwest English county of Devon. The couple has been making the rounds together frequently since both gave up their business interests in the wake of a series of potential conflicts of interests that were frequently exposed in the press.

News of the pregnancy comes as a huge relief to the couple after the emergency of December 2001. “This is a much-wanted baby. And with that in mind she doesn’t want to take any risks,” a palace source tells PEOPLE.

The announcement was made relatively early in the pregnancy. A Buckingham Palace source explains that “because she has been told by the doctors that she has got to cancel engagements for the foreseeable future, she wants to let people know as soon as possible. So that is why it has been announced early.”

Although there have been rumors that she was pregnant for over a month, sources say she has not known long herself. “She is absolutely, completely thrilled about it,” says the source. “She is a little bit tired but apart from that she is fine.”