Hoda Kotb Announces Return to 'Today' as She Urges Women to Take Full Maternity Leave If Possible

Hoda Kotb left the Today show for maternity leave following the arrival of her second daughter, Hope Catherine, in April

Hoda Kotb will be back on air Sept. 3!

The Today star revealed during a video and call-in to Tuesday’s episode that she is planning to return from maternity leave to her NBC co-hosting gig the day after Labor Day. (Kotb, 55, welcomed her second child, Hope Catherine, via adoption in April.)

“I’m not going to lie, this probably has been the best summer of my entire life with these two kids, I’ve loved every second of it. But you know what else I’m going to love? Coming back to you guys,” said Kotb, who co-anchors both the 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. hours as well as the 10 a.m. hour.

Kotb and boyfriend Joel Schiffman are also parents to 2½-year-old daughter Haley Joy, whom she adopted in February 2017 after her Valentine’s Day birth.

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Hoda Kotb with daughters Haley (background) and Hope (foreground). Hoda Kotb/Instagram
<a href="https://people.com/tag/hoda-kotb/" data-inlink="true">Hoda Kotb</a>
Hoda Kotb with daughter Haley. Hoda Kotb/Instagram

Kotb also opened up to PEOPLE exclusively in a Monday chat about her baby girl’s newest milestones, sharing that 4-month-old Hope is “following things with her eyes,” “grabbing things,” smiling, rolling over and grabbing her big sister while Haley is giving her kisses.

Haley, meanwhile, “is talking nonstop,” says the proud mom of two: “She’s gone from saying a bunch of words to saying complete sentences and cracking me up.”

“I said to her, ‘These are car snacks; we don’t eat them anywhere else.’ And we were getting on the train and I said, ‘We’ll have train snacks,’ ” Kotb continues. “She said, ‘Can we have them?’ She was sitting on a bench and she said, ‘Can I have a bench snack?’ ”

The girls have “been at the beach the whole time” this summer, where Schiffman, 61, visits on the weekends before heading back into N.Y.C. for work. As Kotb raves to PEOPLE, “This will go down in my life as the best summer I ever had or will ever had.”

RELATED VIDEO: Hoda Kotb Opens Up About Adjusting to Life as a Mom of Two: “In a Blink, Life Changes”

Kotb’s 10 o’clock co-host Jenna Bush Hager just went off on her own maternity leave after giving birth to her third child, son Henry “Hal” Harold, on Aug. 2 — and Kotb had some major advice (from Bush Hager’s co-hosting predecessor!) to give her about enjoying the time away without worrying too much about work.

“[Kathie Lee Gifford] gave me words of wisdom: ‘When you establish a show, it’s been established. It’s a great show and it’s going to be a great show,’ ” she says to PEOPLE. “I told [Jenna], ‘Be there, be in the moment. When you step back into work, you will be with us.’ ”

“We had this weird overlap time where neither of us [has been on the show], but I’m so incredibly confident in how our show is going to grow,” Kotb adds. “The thing that makes [Jenna] a great host is that she’s like the people watching the show. She’s not like other people on TV.”

“Live your life with your kids, and take all that awesomeness and bring that to the show,” she continues. “Just be a good mom, a good friend, a good sister, a good person. And she has that. I said, ‘I know how good it’s gonna be.’ ”

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Hoda Kotbe/Instagram
<a href="https://people.com/tag/hoda-kotb/" data-inlink="true">Hoda Kotb</a>
Savannah Guthrie/Instagram

Kotb also admits she misses her “morning hang” time with Savannah Guthrie, when the two usually chat while getting their makeup done ahead of the show. But while she’s eager to get back to the studio (“work has ridden sidecar with me my whole life,” she says), she wouldn’t trade the past few months with her girls for the world.

“Work is incredibly important, but I do understand what my North Stars are now. And it’s clear. And when something is clear like that, decisions come easy,” Kotb tells PEOPLE. “I know I come from a place of incredible fortune … and [have taken] a maternity leave that is longer than most people are allowed to take. I’m on-my-knees grateful for that, because it matters to me. It’s not something everybody can do.”

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to go back, but at the same time I feel like I didn’t miss this moment,” she adds. “We all need to pay [our] bills and have insurance … we can’t take all the time we want. I get it. But I feel like if you can, and if you’re at a point where you feel like you can do it, you should do it. I’m sure every woman wants to do it and can’t. But if more women are taking the allotted time, then other women aren’t going to look at them funny.”

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Hoda Kotb/ Instagram

However, “It’s not a vacation,” Kotb warns. “I worked harder on maternity leave than I did at work. You’re up at the crack of dawn, and you’re up all hours. Stay-at-home moms should be called work-at-home moms. You are up all the time. We post stuff on Instagram from the beach, but it’s work. But it’s the best work. It’s the best work I did in my life. I don’t know if my kids will remember it, but … I will always remember.”

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