My friend Stephanie is due next week (!!) and asked me a couple of questions that might be helpful to some of you. But remember: I'm not an expert on parenting...I'm just giving advice and tips that have worked really well for me.
When do you think is the earliest you could start letting a baby cry themselves to sleep without traumatizing them?
This is a funny question. I was so set on the "cry it out" method before Jack was born. I felt as if I had read enough about newborns before he was born, but the reality was that I had just skimmed information. Not until after he was born did I start to submerse myself deeply into all topics considering newborns, which was a little too late because that's the time you're establishing habits! I started to let him "cry it out" from the day we brought him home (day two) but it wasn't for that long. Tyler and I both quickly became suckers. It's amazing how quickly a newborn can get you wrapped right around their little fingers and toes!
It wasn't til around the one month mark that I decided enough was enough. Jack wasn't sleeping well and neither was I. Tyler and I were both spending HOURS each night trying to rock him to sleep as he cried. I finally just started setting him down in his crib when I saw a couple yawns come out of him. Young kids can't stifle their yawns and hide them - neither can adults, really - so a yawn is the perfect indication of a newborn's tiredness. Put them down quick, before they get too tired to sleep and start getting cranky. The first few days he'd cry a little bit in his crib before he fell asleep, but these cries became shorter and shorter. Now at almost 4 months he rarely cries when I set him down. Maybe I just got lucky and have an easy baby, but I think the biggest thing is the earlier you start establishing a routine, the better.
EDIT: I thought about this for a while, and decided as soon as you learn to recognize their different cries (ex: hunger, tiredness, bored, etc) you can let them cry it out. That way you can be positive they are genuinely tired, and not just hungry.
Would you be willing to post your feeding/nap schedule, starting from when Jack was a newborn, and progressing to as he got older?
As I mentioned before, I followed BabyWise. I made sure to feed Jack right as he woke up from a nap, then played with him for a while, and when I saw the telltale yawn, I'd whisk him off to bed.
Below is our tentative schedule, if you can even call it a schedule. Jack sort of fell into it on his own, but sometimes it was pushed a little by me. Sometimes he'd want to eat at 2 1/2 hours instead of every 3 hours, and I'd insist on letting him cry for about fifteen minutes, to make it 2 3/4 hours. Most of the time we'd meet in the middle like that, but if he seemed to be doing this several feedings in a row I knew he was going through a growth spurt and he needed to eat more often.
0-8 weeks: Jack would go to sleep around 10pm, wake up to feed at 2am, and wake up to feed at 6am. He naturally fell into this by his first few days of life. Throughout the day I'd follow his cues, but usually feed him every 3 hours during the day. He would wake from his nap, I'd change his diaper, feed him, and then play with him. Put down for a nap and repeat. He couldn't stay awake for more than an hour at a time, so it was 1 hour of feeding and playing and 2 hours of napping.
9 weeks - present: Around 7-9 weeks I started to group his feedings more at night to make him sleep longer. He won't eat an entire feeding at 10 or 11pm (he's too sleepy) but even getting a couple of ounces in him seems to get him through the night. He wakes up around 7 or 8am, eats every 3 hours, and goes to bed anywhere from 7-8 depending on my exercise schedule. Then I feed him again at 10 or 11 and he doesn't wake til 7 or 8am! He has gradually (around the 2 1/2 month mark) eased into a 1 1/2 hours awake, 1 1/2 hours asleep routine. And him sleeping through the night happened "all of a sudden". He was going about 5 or 6 hours through the night and one night he just didn't wake up til 7 in the morning. He was consistent from then on.
I have also been pretty flexible lately. My mom told my husband when we were home for Christmas that I needed to be less rigid with my baby schedule. Luckily I have been better about that lately and Jack has been too. Today our weekly play group was at 1pm, which is usually when Jack is asleep. But he was a good little boy and went down for a nap early, and thus got to be awake during the play group. He loved it!