Is Pencil Chewing and Shirt Collar Nuzzling a Problem? Babkin Palmomental Retained Reflex May Be the Reason

I first learned about the Babkin Palmomental (BP) reflex during a pediatric growth and development class 30 years ago, but it’s only been in the last few years of practice I have come to appreciate the full impact of what it means to have an unconditioned or retained BP. It isn’t one of the reflexes developmental therapists routinely check during our assessment of children, but it should be. A retained BP has a profound impact on how a child communicates, handles pressure at home and in the classroom, and most notably develops oral fixations, like eating 10 pencils during the course of a day. I sat next to a kid named Teddy in first grade. He ate the giant-sized eraser one of my favorite aunts gave me for Christmas one year. We all know a Teddy, he’s usually the kid you don’t want touching your stuff, because it can end up in his mouth.

 The BP is important for our survival as it lays the foundation for feeding reflexes. Feeding reflexes consist of sucking, chewing, manipulation of fluids and solids in the mouth and swallowing. It also orchestrates the synchronization of hand to mouth, bringing one hand alone and two hands together to the central line of the body, is the substrate from which articulate speech develops and facilitates effective digestion. The BP emerges in the 9th week of gestation, just as the embryonic phase ends and the fetal phase of development begins. The BP is typically fully integrated into the nervous system by 4 months postnatally. Sometimes this doesn’t happen; I don’t have all of the answers as to the why nots. Lack of early bonding, poor feeding rituals, poor digestion and or lack of or insufficient breast feeding may be part of this equation, the jury is out.

I do know when a BP is not fully integrated it leads to hand to mouth impulses, oral fixation, disarticulate speech, poor ability to communicate needs, poor emotional regulation and addictions. Chewing on pencils, and the like, is only part of the picture. The chewing is usually just the tip of the iceberg. These children have very stressed nervous systems and need specialized help.

If you have a child or work with a child who is a chewer, it’s not usually because they like the taste of the object they are chewing on or that they have a mission to be destructive. Having a retained BP is a developmental weakness for which there are solutions. It is not an easy fix, but once integrated the chewing stops or significantly declines in intensity, the child finds a more effective voice for themselves and emotions are more in check. This child has also been helped to reduce their lifetime risk of developing health negative habits, like over-eating and smoking.

We can only attempt to truly solve problems when we understand where it is comes from. My mission is to inform, get you talking and thinking.

 Have a thought filled day,


How do I know my child has a retained Babkin Palmomental?

With the child lying on back give firm pressure with your thumbs into the center of both palms at the same time. If the child’s head moves more forward and their mouth opens they have a retained Babkin Palmomental. I have seen children stick out their tongues, make dramatic grimaces, cry and or laugh uncontrollably during testing for this reflex. A normal reaction to pressure in both palms is having no reaction.