By Cassandra Vinograd with 3 News online staff
The most widely anticipated pregnancy since Princess Diana's in 1981 is official: Prince William's wife, Kate, is pregnant.
St James's Palace announced the pregnancy, saying that the Duchess of Cambridge - formerly known as Kate Middleton - has a severe form of morning sickness and is currently in a London hospital. William spent time at his wife's side.
News of the pregnancy drew congratulations from across the world, with the hashtag "royalbaby" trending globally on Twitter.
The couple's first child will be third in line to take the throne - leapfrogging the gregarious Prince Harry and possibly setting up the first scenario in which a UK female heir could benefit from new gender rules about succession.
The palace would not say how far along the 30-year-old duchess is, only that she has not yet reached the 12-week mark. Palace officials said the duchess was hospitalised with hyperemesis gravidarum, a potentially dangerous type of morning sickness where vomiting is so severe no food or liquid can be kept down. They said she was expected to remain hospitalised for several days and would require a period of rest afterward.
"It's not unusual for pregnant women to get morning sickness, but when it gets to the point where you're dehydrated, losing weight or vomiting so much you begin to build up (toxic) products in your blood, that's a concern," said Dr Kecia Gaither, director of maternal foetal medicine at Brookdale University and Medical Center in New York.
The condition is thought to affect about one in 50 pregnant women but Gaither said less than one percent of women with the condition need to be hospitalised.
The news came just days after the duchess, on a royal appearance, was playing field hockey with schoolchildren at her former school.
Not only are the attractive young couple popular - with William's easy common touch reminding many of his mother, the late Diana - but their child is expected to play an important role in British national life for decades to come.
HEIR TO THE THRONE
William is second in line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, so the couple's first child would normally become a monarch - eventually.
The confirmation of Kate's pregnancy caps a jam-packed year of highs and lows for the young royals, who were married in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey last year.
They have travelled the world extensively as part of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations and weathered the embarrassment of a nude photos scandal, after a tabloid published topless images of the duchess.
Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, said the news bookended a year that saw the royal family riding high in popular esteem after celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne.
"We're riding on a royal high at the moment at the end of the Diamond Jubilee year," he said. "People enjoyed the royal romance last year and now there's this. It's just a good news story amid all the doom and gloom."
Speculation about when the couple would start a family has been rife since their wedding.
A HISTORY OF ROYAL BABIES
William's mother Diana got pregnant just four months after her wedding in 1981. Diana also reportedly suffered from morning sickness for months and complained of constant media attention.
"The whole world is watching my stomach," Diana once said.
She gave birth to William in 1982 after 16 hours of labour. At his birth, William was given a baby tag marked `Baby Wales' and a 41-gun salute was fired in Hyde Park and the Tower of London.
In September 1983, roughly a year after the birth of William, Buckingham Palace announced that Diana was pregnant for a second time. However, within a week, Diana suffered a miscarriage when on holiday at Balmoral, Scotland.
In 1984, she became pregnant again and gave birth to Harry.
American tabloid speculation of Kate's pregnancy has been rampant for months. One newspaper even cited anonymous sources talking about Kate's hormone levels. Others have focused on the first signs of the royal bump.
The palace said the royal family was "delighted" by the news. British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he got a heads-up about the pregnancy, saying he found the news "quite difficult" to keep to himself and expressing his confidence the duo will make "absolutely brilliant parents."
Congratulations are also flooding in from other world leaders, including United States President Barack Obama and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.
“This is fabulous news for Prince William and Catherine, and I know the Queen and Prince Philip will be extremely pleased,” Mr Key said in a statement.
"It is an important day in any young couple's life when a baby is expected and I know that Catherine and William will be as nervous and excited as anyone.”
"We wish them both the very best and hope Catherine's stay in hospital is a short one.”
WHAT IF IT’S A GIRL?
The leaders of Britain and the 15 former colonies that have the monarch as their head of state agreed in 2011 to new rules which give females equal status with males in the order of succession.
Although none of the nations had legislated the change as of September, the British Cabinet Office confirmed that this is now the de-facto rule.
Those changes make Kate's pregnancy all the more significant for the royal family, according to Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine.
"This is the first child who will be an heir to the throne whatever sex they are," she said. "It's a new beginning."
Graham Smith of anti-monarchy group Republic called Kate's pregnancy a "private, personal matter" for her and William, saying the flood of media coverage was disproportionate
"We've heard today that our future head of state is on the way. It's a pretty bizarre way of choosing someone for public office," he said.
On the couple's tour of Malaysia, Singapore, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu in September, William reportedly said he hoped he and Kate would have two children.